In March of 2019, officials in Kentucky and Georgia notified the CDC of an outbreak of E. coli infections traced to the consumption of ground beef. As part of the resulting investigation, 209 people from 10 different states were found to be infected. Grant Park Packing recalled approximately 53,200 pounds of ground beef products, and K2D foods recalled approximately 113,424 pounds.
This is just one of many examples of meat-related outbreaks in recent years. Generally speaking, the number of food recalls per year is trending upward, though Class 1 recalls, which are associated with the most serious health risks, remain rare.
This rarity is due in part to the implementation of the Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA), which requires the USDA Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) to conduct meat analysis on any product that is created, wholly or in part, from the carcass of any livestock for human consumption. “Livestock” under these regulations is defined as cattle, sheep, swine, and goats, and must be inspected both ante-mortem and post-mortem to ensure that all parts intended for human consumption are fit for that purpose.
One factor that might indicate livestock are not fit for human consumption is the presence of certain pathogens during meat analysis that are known to cause illnesses, like the kinds that were present in the outbreaks described above, though each kind of livestock and meat product is susceptible to unique combinations of pathogens.
The following is a list of common pathogens, and the products they are most likely to affect:
- Salmonella spp.: This is the bacteria most commonly associated with the colloquial term “food poisoning;” it causes symptoms of gastrointestinal upset in humans and is commonly found in poultry, beef, seafood, and pork.
- Staphylococcus aureus: While up to 25% of healthy people and animals have this bacteria present on their skin and inside their nose, it can multiply and produce harmful toxins when it contaminates food. This bacteria is commonly found in beef, pork, and poultry.
- E. coli: Like Staphylococcus aureus, E. coli is common in healthy animals, though certain strains can cause serious illness. Also like Staphylococcus aureus, it is common in beef, poultry, and pork.
- Listeria monocytogenes: This is a very common and highly resilient bacteria that causes foodborne illness. It is usually found in beef, chicken, and seafood.
Why Meat Analysis is Critical
Pathogens like Salmonella spp. and E. coli, which are naturally present in the intestines of livestock, can easily spread through the meat due to improper handling during the slaughter process. The high water content of fresh meat also allows microorganisms, including bacteria, to multiply easily given the right conditions. Improper storage techniques, like warm temperatures, facilitate this growth. Cross-contamination is also a risk, as so many elements of the agricultural supply chain overlap.
To ensure that meat products are safe for consumers to eat, meat analysis from a certified microbiology lab looks for the presence of pathogens throughout all stages of the supply chain. This can include the testing of raw materials and ingredients in animal feed, the testing of raw meat after slaughter, and swab samples from feeding and processing equipment. Sampling methods can be destructive or non-destructive, but care should be taken to ensure that sampling is as representative of true conditions as possible.
We’re Your Meat Analysis Lab Partner
Barrow-Agee can help you through the sampling and testing process. To get started, download the sample submission form and follow the attached guidelines. This will get you set up with a personalized service plan from our labs, which offer everything from full-service support to backup and emergency testing.
All of our testing services are backed by accreditations and certifications from the leaders and governing bodies of the food safety industry.