National Cattlemen's Beef Association
H. Russell Cross
Food safety will continue to be top of mind with domestic and international
consumers of U.S. beef. We are in the midst of a massive food safety reform
in the U.S. that was triggered by the 1993 E. coli O157:H7
outbreak. In addition, the ongoing E. coli O157:H7 outbreak
in Japan has seriously impacted U.S. beef sales in Japan (35-40%) at a cost
approaching $1 billion--even though no U.S. beef contributed to the Japanese
outbreak. The current administration will have food safety as one of its
major focus areas for the next four years. We expect President Clinton
to make a significant announcement on food safety in his State of the Union
address early next year. With the new HACCP and pathogen reduction regulations
in place, we now have, for the first time, national bacterial performance
standards on raw meat and poultry. It is expected that results of the USDA
tests will be made available to the public on an individual plant basis
(World Wide Web and 800 number). For these reasons, the awareness (and
perhaps confusion) of the public regarding food safety will continue to
increase. It is imperative that the U.S. beef industry become very aggressive
to do all that they can do to make beef as safe as possible for their consumer
and convince them that they have done so.
The food safety program of the future will be based on risk reduction through
prevention programs such as HACCP. These HACCP programs will contain effective
hazard prevention or intervention strategies. HACCP will be implemented
by the industry with third party oversight from the federal government.
The command and control daily oversight will not be necessary nor will
it be effective under a strong HACCP program. Finally, the HACCP/prevention
system will be implemented from the ranch to the consumer. The final stage
of the food safety chain will contain effective educational/awareness programs
for the consumer.
The goals of the U.S. beef industry in regard to food safety should include
Potential Research Focus Areas
- Conduct research aimed at reducing hazards in beef that impact public
health from the ranch to the consumer.
- Implement science-based technology to reduce hazards to public health.
- Aggressively tell their customer what they are doing to produce the
safest beef product in the world.
(not listed in priority order)
- Conduct research to determine whether beef pathogen reduction focus
should be prior to slaughter, after slaughter or both. Many in the beef
industry feel that multiple post-slaughter pathogen interventions will effectively
take care of pathogens. In recent articles, some consumer groups have stated
that they feel that all E. coli O157:H7 is derived from the cow,
regardless of what food causes the illness. Research should be conducted
to give the NCBA policy makers the information they need to take a position
on pre- vs. post-harvest pathogen interventions.
- Conduct basic research to investigate bacterial attachment and detachment
in the rumen prior to slaughter.
- Conduct a detailed public health risk analysis comparing dairy cows,
beef cows, fed steers and fed heifers. Focus should be on pathogens and
- Conduct research to evaluate risk factors and bacterial levels associated
with the bovine during management prior to slaughter. There are potential
risk factors associated with changes in the prevalence of human enteric
pathogens in beef animals during the pre-slaughter time period. Research
is needed to determine the change in bacterial load as influenced by pre-slaughter
management, handling, etc.
- Conduct research to develop systems to effectively "trace-back"
from the final product to the individual animal. The ability to "trace-back"
will eventually be a requirement by the end-users of beef (food-service,
retail, etc.) Many countries are well advanced in this area such as England,
Ireland, France, Italy, and Australia. An initial step would be to access
the current state of the knowledge in these countries and the U.S. Trace-back
is coming, so we had better be prepared
- Investigate human beings as vectors/vehicles for transmission of E.
coli O157:H7 and other microorganisms.
- Develop microbiological interventions following beef carcass fabrication--immediately
prior to vacuum packaging and trim utilization.
- Investigate the inclusion of antibacterial agents in packaging film
for retail case-ready cuts.
- Conduct research to identify all points between final washing of carcasses
at which potential exists for microbiological contamination, growth and
- Investigate the potential of pre-evisceration washing of beef carcasses
to determine potential for preventing attachment of food-borne pathogens
to the surfaces of the carcass.
- Develop pathogen interventions for variety meats. When the Japanese
government began testing imported products for E. coli O157:7
they found two positives in U.S. beef variety meats. No other country had
any positives. The U.S. beef industry generally does not practice HACCP
for variety meats nor do they use pathogen kill steps. It is critical that
this area be addressed as soon as possible. We need to be able to tell
our Japanese customers that "we are researching the problem and that
it is a very high priority."
- Conduct research to evaluate the effect of slaughter line speeds on
the presence of pathogens post-slaughter.
- Conduct research to evaluate the impact of slicing open lymph nodes
for inspection as this practice relates to the spreading of pathogens.
- Conduct research on the use of competitive inhibition of pathogens by
non-pathogenic bacterial to reduce pathogens on the carcass.
- Conduct research to evaluate the effect of beef carcass spray chilling
on shifts of bacterial pathogen profiles on the beef carcass.
- Investigate various combinations of factors in processing, (i.e.. water
activity, Ph, heat, chemicals, bacterial cultures, atmospheric pressure,
packaging, etc.) to eliminate or damage pathogens.
- Conduct research to determine how pathogens are transmitted through
slaughter and processing facilities. What physical controls are available
to stop that transmission? What are the effects of condensation and aerosols
on bacterial contamination?
- Conduct research to establish quantitative data on the impact of marginal
temperature abuse on the growth of pathogens, especially during transportation.
- Conduct research to evaluate the human health risks of slaughtering
diseased/suspect animals concurrently with healthy animals? Risk assessments
could be performed to assess the risks related to cross contamination by
carcass contact, dressing procedures, washing, equipment, aerosolization
of pathogenic organisms, etc.
- Conduct research to evaluate the human health risks related to the consumption
of products that are produced using different types of chilling systems.
Risk assessments could be performed on air vs. water chilling (poultry).
- Conduct research to investigate the use of non-meat ingredients to limit
growth of pathogens in processed beef products.
- Conduct research to evaluate the impact of condensation on pathogen
levels and foodborne illness. Data is needed to determine the public health
importance of condensation in beef fabrication and processing.
- Conduct research designed to improve the state and federal foodborne
illness surveillance systems related to foodborne bacterial disease.
- Conduct research to evaluate the current state of pathogen intervention
technology in regard to ready-to-eat beef items. There is a strong likelihood
that effective kill steps are missing from these products and the potential
exists for serious problems.
- Conduct research to develop an effective kill step for BSE prions in
the rendering process.
- Conduct research to develop a rapid and low-cost test for BSE prions.