Microbiology testing is the process of testing for pathogens (including bacteria and viruses) and microbial toxins at all stages of the food supply chain. Testing can take a number of forms, from examining ingredients and raw materials to finished products. Swab samples from the feeding or manufacturing environment may also be collected. Typically, testing of this kind is looking for the active presence or indicators of certain pathogens. Most often, these pathogens are Salmonella, Listeria monocytogenes (L. monocytogenes), and pathogenic E. coli.
Common Pathogens Found in Animal Feed
Salmonella is a bacterium that causes salmonellosis, which can create digestive difficulties for humans and animals. Salmonella can infect animal feed at any stage, from ingredients to the manufacturing equipment. While processes to kill salmonella are common, they may be ineffective and should be verified by periodic microbiology testing for animal feed.
- Monocytogenes is a highly resilient bacterium that causes listeriosis in humans and animals. Because this bacterium is able to persist in all kinds of conditions, including both high and low temperatures, low moisture content, and high acidity, it can remain active in processing facilities for years. It’s this fact that makes this particular strain so important to identify through microbiology testing for animal feeds to ensure it doesn’t continue to cause problems in products over time.
- E. coli strains are extremely common, and many are harmless, but those that do have negative side effects are among the most common causes of product recalls due to foodborne illness.
Microbiology testing for animal feed also looks for the presence of mycotoxins, which are toxic metabolites produced by certain fungi that can infect crops. Mycotoxins cause a kind of fungal infection called mycosis, which can reduce milk-yield in dairy cattle, impact the performance of farm animals, and cause everything from minor irritations to death in humans and household pets.
The risks posed by these pathogens and mycotoxins make microbiology testing essential to ensure food safety, as contaminants pass along the supply chain easily and can cause damage to livestock herds, product recalls, or public health crises.
Conduct Microbiology Testing for Animal Feed Early — and Often
Testing for and removing harmful pathogens and toxins in the finished product is only one step in the process. It is also important to perform microbiology testing for animal feed much earlier in the supply chain. Clean, healthy animal feed leads to healthy livestock, which leads to healthy livestock products.
Conversely, contaminated animal feed introduces pathogens into livestock, which then passes into meat and milk products, as well as the surrounding environment. Environmental contamination can affect crops grown, processed, or transported in close proximity to livestock, broadening the potential public health impact of contaminants.
In 2019, the CDC investigated seven outbreaks of Salmonella, leading to 8,556 people infected, 2,430 of whom required hospitalization, and 46 of whom died as a result of the illness. In the same timeframe, five outbreaks of E.coli resulted in 3,127 infections, 660 hospitalizations, and 10 deaths, and one outbreak of L. monocytogenes led to 134 infections, 131 hospitalizations, and 21 deaths. These statistics point to the need for vigorous and methodical testing to identify points of contamination that put consumers, as well as livestock and crops, in danger of detrimental contamination.
Know the Signs
Certain problems are telltale warning signs for livestock farmers to introduce a more rigorous livestock feed testing plan. These are often indicators of the overall health of livestock and their handlers, as well as operational efficiency on the farm. Reduced milk production, pregnancy loss and reduction in conception, digestive and respiratory disorders, and unexplained weight loss in livestock could all be indicators of animal feed contaminants. Farmer’s lung in humans, typically caused by mold spores, can also be caused by mycotoxins and is an indicator that conditions are prime for contaminants of all kinds.
If you are in need of microbiology testing for your animal feed, Barrow-Agee Laboratories can help. We offer flexible service in the form of emergency testing, which can return results in as little as five days on average, with expedited results available even faster. We also offer backup laboratory services in case your own lab is over capacity or temporarily out of commission. With our ISO 17025 accreditation, you can be sure that we are up to date on the latest food safety testing technology and regulations.