Rapid testing for big 6 shiga toxin E. coli in slaughterhouses

Six major Shiga toxin producing Escherichia coli (STEC) serogroups: O26, O103, O145, O111, O121, and O45 have been declared as adulterants in federally inspected raw beef in the USA effective June 4th, 2012 in addition to the routinely tested STEC O157: H7. This study tests a real-time multiplex PCR assay and pooling of the samples to optimize the detection and quantification (prevalence and contamination) of six major non-O157 STEC, regardless of possessing Shiga toxins.

imagesTo demonstrate the practicality, one large-scale slaughter plant (Plant LS) and one small-scale slaughter plant (Plant SS) located in the Mid-Western USA were sampled, in 2011, before the establishment of 2013 USDA laboratory protocols. Carcasses were sampled at consecutive intervention stations and beef trimmings were collected at the end of the fabrication process. Plant SS had marginally more contaminated samples than Plant LS (p-value 0.08). The post-hide removal wash, steam pasteurization, and lactic acid (≤5%) spray used in Plant LS seemed to reduce the six serogroups effectively, compared to the hot-water wash and 7-day chilling at Plant SS.

Compared to the culture isolation methods, quantification of the non-O157 STEC using real-time PCR may be an efficient way to monitor the efficacy of slaughter line interventions.

Evaluating the efficacy of beef slaughter line interventions by quantifying the six major non-O157 Shiga toxin producing Escherichia coli serogroups using real-time multiplex PCR

Food Microbiology, Volume 63, May 2017, Pages 228-238, DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.fm.2016.11.023

KST Kanankege, KS Anklam, CM Fick, MJ Kulow, CW Kaspar, BH Ingham, A Milkowski, D Döpfer


USDA strategies to reduce E. coli levels at beef slaughterhouses

Reduction of E. coli O157 illnesses since the mid-1990’s has been one of the Food Safety and Inspection Service’s greatest public health successes, with illnesses having dropped by over 50% since 1998.  While overall illnesses are down significantly, the most recently available outbreak data shows a slight increase in illnesses from this dangerous pathogen.  FSIS’ Strategic Performance Working Group (SPWG) has released a six-point strategy to turn the trend back in the right direction.

usda.sanitary.dressingThe SPWG determined that a reduction in O157 could be achieved in two ways.  First, the Agency needs to improve how FSIS inspection personnel verify plant performance of sanitary dressing procedures through better training, more correlations, and developing a standard to assess industry’s performance of sanitary dressing. Drawing on the experience of its members, the SPWG also stated that the training would be most effective if it included photographs and real-world scenarios to effectively illustrate the issues discussed in the documents.

Second, the SPWG recommended improving the information available to industry on how sanitary dressing should be performed.  The SPWG said the Agency could do so by publishing a guide containing suggestions for best practices.

More detailed information about the SPWG’s findings and recommendations mentioned here can be found on the FSIS website at Strategic Performance Working Group: Shiga Toxin-Producing E. coli Findings

Food safety begins on the farm; Campylobacter reduction in UK

Zoe Kay of Farmers Weekly writes that reducing human infection from campylobacter is the Food Standard Agency’s highest priority – and that means farmers through to supermarkets must play their part.

The reason, according to Javier Dominiguez Orive, deputy veterinary director at the FSA, is simple: Each year in the UK there are 460,000 cases of campylobacter food poisoning, 22,000 hospitalisations and 110 deaths, costing the NHS an estimated £540m.

30913_1The bacteria is endemic in the environment, he adds, and can be caught from pets. But chicken is responsible for 60-80% of all human cases.

“Birds from houses that are thinned are eight times more likely to be colonised at the end of the cycle,” Mary Howell, a senior scientific officer at the FSA told the conference. She pointed to the significant biosecurity risk that thinning presents, as well as the movement of modular crates. While these crates are routinely cleaned, this may not be done at a high enough temperature to kill the campy bug.

In addition to not thinning, Ms Howell also recommended sending evenly sized birds for slaughter by employing sexing and an effective culling-out policy as a way of potentially reducing campylobacter.

Veterinary consultant Jane Downes led a UK-wide on-farm project with the aim of demonstrating that biosecurity can work in controlling campylobacter.

Freshly-slaughtered-pluck-007“It is important for farmers to focus on producing safe food and not just see their chickens as animals.”

While much of the problem of Campylobacter can be traced back to farms, slaughterhouse practices also play a major part.

Cross contamination by carcass washing is one issue and trial work using barbecue dust has investigated the effectiveness of different nozzle types and settings. A web-based tool has since been developed, allowing processors to learn which measures work for them and compare their performance with others.

Numerous violations found at Mississippi slaughterhouses

Some meat processed for consumption in Mississippi has been kicked, contaminated, smeared with feces, left under dripping pipes and stored in insect-infested rooms, according to federal inspection records obtained by The Clarion-Ledger.

Nineteen of the state’s 22 slaughterhouses racked up a combined 470 noncompliance records between May 16 and July 1, as detailed by the USDA Food Safety and BryantsGroceryMeatMkt2009Inspection Service, which places personnel in all federally approved meat processing plants.

A noncompliance record is issued any time a plant fails to meet federal regulations on any one of a host of issues ranging from building maintenance to food safety controls.

The Clarion-Ledger requested the records in July after People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals released a video showing abuse at a Pontotoc, Miss., slaughterhouse. That slaughterhouse, Southern Quality Meats, did not appear in the report provided by FSIS.

The records — 300 pages of detailed inspection notes — are a fraction of the 10 years’ worth the newspaper requested and is still awaiting. FSIS provides the data in batches.

Nearly one-third of the records received detail the discovery of feces on randomly selected poultry carcasses before they enter the chiller, which is the last step before being cut up and packaged for consumption.


Surveys still suck: UK attitudes to slaughterhouse treatments

The piping hot risk communicators at the UK Food Standards Agency have found that rapid chilling of meat and the application of hot water or steam emerged as the two slaughterhouse treatments consumers would find most acceptable.

Treatments using lactic acid and ozone were initially considered less acceptable, however, when consumers were given extra information communicationon lactic acid, its acceptability increased significantly.

The survey was carried out as part of the Agency’s work to reduce the levels of campylobacter on raw poultry.

FSA Head Of Foodborne Diseases Strategy, Bob Martin said, ‘The findings suggest that providing clear information about the treatments, such as what they are and how they work, would have a positive impact on the public’s acceptability of new treatments such as these.’

FSA chief scientist Andrew Wadge also weighed in, writing the results suggest that “public resistance to innovative ideas may be partly due to an unfamiliarity with particular processes.

“It seems then, that the language we use and the type of information we provide on innovative processes is important to public acceptance of science.”


19 still sick with E. coli in Belgium; slaughterhouse to increase testing

While the case count remains at 19 in the E. coli O157:H7 outbreak in Belgium linked to américain préparé containing raw hamburger, the slaughterhouse that supplied the beef has pledged to increase testing.

Our French friend, Albert Amgar, wrote, it’s out of the ordinary to see a slaughterhouse communicate in such an open manner.

The abattoir in Genk (Limbourg province) is going to undergo even stricter testing following an infection of Escherichia coli from which 19 people were stricken in Limbourg this weekend. According the Federal Agency for the Security of the Food Chain (AFSCA), it is now certain that the infection came from this abattoir. The management of the slaughterhouse confirmed on their part that it is not out of the question that the victims kept the filet américain (that made them sick) in a place that was not sufficiently cold. But it also admits that the infection could have come from within the slaughterhouse, in spite of strict hygiene tests.

A French video can be seen at this link:


Thanks to Albert for finding the article and video, and Amy for translating.

Albert also had some sardonic words for the Belgian Minister of Agriculture, Sabine Laruelle, who attempted to reassure the public by reminding everyone that it was the common E. coli O157 strain and not the one that killed all the Germans last year.

Clean animals result in fewer E. coli: Norwegian PhD research

Following an E. coli outbreak in 2006, when 17 people fell ill and one child died after eating mutton sausages in Norway, the meat industry introduced a number of measures in order to reduce the risk of food poisoning from meat.

Clean animals and good hygiene during slaughtering are essential preconditions for food safety.

Sigrun J. Hauge of the Norwegian School of Veterinary Science recently defended her doctoral research evaluating measures on farms and in slaughterhouses to reduce levels of dangerous E. coli.

Slaughterhouses have systems for categorizing animals according to how dirty they are. Around 3-5% of the animals that arrive at abattoirs are so soiled that they are categorized as high-risk. Every year, deductions in the price of meat due to dirty animals amount to over 9 million Norwegian kroners.

Soiled slaughter can pose a risk to food safety because feces on hides/wool, intestines, knives and the hands of the butchers can be transferred to the meat during the slaughter process. Hauge studied the factors affecting the cleanliness of animals on farms and how clean or soiled hide affects the contamination of skinned carcasses. Her experiments confirmed that meat from dirty cattle has more E. coli than meat from clean cattle.

Sheep farmers are also subjected to price reductions for dirty and unshorn animals. Hauge’s research showed that the surface of meat from shorn sheep has less E. coli than that of unshorn sheep immediately after skinning and that the point in time that the sheep are shorn before slaughtering is also significant when it comes to the amount of bacteria immediately after skinning. But towards the end of the slaughtering process, all the meat had equal amounts of E. coli on its surface, regardless of when the sheep were shorn.

Dirty and unshorn animals are considered a high risk. They are treated in separate product streams in the slaughterhouses and their meat is not used for raw products such as minced meat and cured meat, but for products that are heat treated before sale (such as sausages and meatballs etc.).

Meat from lambs was hosed with water at 82 °C for 8 seconds in an enclosed "shower" – so-called hot water pasteurization — before it was cooled. This treatment reduced the amount of E. coli on carcasses by 99.5%. After 5 days of cooling, no further E. coli were found on the meat. The recycled water in the shower was of a good microbiological, chemical and physical quality. Immediately after pasteurization, the meat was rather pale, but it regained its normal colour after being cooled for 24 hours.

Hot water pasteurisation is not generally accepted as a hygiene measure in Norway and the EU and the Norwegian Food Safety Authority would have to give its approval, if the method is to be used at slaughterhouses. Hot water pasteurization will obviate the need for separate product streams in abattoirs for high-risk sheep.

Cand.agric. Sigrun J. Hauge defended her doctoral research on 2nd May 2012 at The Norwegian School of Veterinary Science (NVH) with a thesis entitled “Hygienic impact of measures related to unclean cattle and sheep at farm level and in the abattoir.”

Illegal slaughterhouse — goats dogs frogs dragons — found in Melbourne

Police raided a Rockbank, Australia property this week with representatives from the RSPCA, Melton Shire Council, the Department of Sustainability and Environment (DSE) and the regulator responsible for meat safety, PrimeSafe.

"The other agencies attended the residential address in relation to information about possible wildlife and animal cruelty offences, as well as the alleged production and selling of meat," a police spokeswoman said.

An RSPCA spokesman said 22 dogs of varying breeds were found and about 100 goats, one of which had to be euthanased on humane grounds.

PrimeSafe chief executive Brian Casey said two goat carcasses were found and about 20 kilograms of sheep or goat meat was discovered in a freezer.

There was no evidence dogs had been slaughtered, he said.

In Victoria it is illegal to slaughter non-consumable animals such as dogs, horses, cats and donkeys.

"You can slaughter consumable animals [such as goats] but they must be slaughtered at a licensed abattoir," Mr Casey told AAP.

There was an exemption in place to enable farmers to slaughter edible animals on their properties for their own consumption, but the Rockbank property was not a farm, he said.

More than 45 animals were seized by DSE including 30 frogs, four central bearded dragons, a children’s python and a crucifix toad, which were being kept illegally.

"A wildlife licence is required by anyone keeping and trading protected wildlife in Victoria."

Slaughterhouse 5, as in 5 stars; NRC committee finds releasing inspection and testing data on meat and poultry processing facilities with care could have ‘substantial benefits’

 Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time.

Wrong lede.

“Publicly posting enforcement and testing data corresponding to specific meat, poultry, and egg products’ processing plants on the Internet could have "substantial benefits," including the potential to favorably impact public health, says a new report from the National Research Council. The report adds that the release of such data could contribute to increased transparency and yield valuable insights that go beyond the regulatory uses for which the data are collected.”

The report gets a lot of things right, especially the decades-long move to more transparency in U.S. regulatory functions, whether it’s food safety, environmental pollution or energy generation. No one wants to be on the wrong side of history, the democratization of institutions, so best to provide taxpayer-funded information, and figure out the most effective way to provide such information, rather than being the politician or group that says, “no.”

The committee notes that, just like restaurant inspection disclosure, “releasing these data could potentially motivate individual companies, and sectors of the food industry, to improve their overall food safety efforts,” and that such publicly available date could, “provide incentives to food processing establishments to protect brand reputation in food safety in order to protect and enhance customer base and profitability.”

If only consumers could choose at retail.

The press release announcing the report’s findings is below.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is responsible for ensuring that meat, poultry, and processed egg products are safe, wholesome, and properly labeled. It collects voluminous amounts of data at thousands of processing facilities in support of its regulatory functions and is considering the release of two types of collected data on its website. These include inspection and enforcement data and sampling and testing data — such as testing for the presence of foodborne pathogens like salmonella, pathogenic E. coli, and Listeria monocytogenes. Some of this information is already available to the public via the Internet but is aggregated and does not contain names of specific processing facilities. However, most of the data FSIS collects, with the exception of information that is considered proprietary, can currently be obtained by the public through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

The committee that wrote the report examined a substantial body of literature documenting the impacts of disclosing establishment-specific regulatory information similar to that collected by FSIS. Based on this information, the committee believed there are strong arguments supporting the public release of FSIS data that contains the names of processing facilities on the Internet, especially data that are subject to release under FOIA, unless there is compelling evidence that it is not in the public interest to release them. Several potential benefits of releasing such data include enabling users to make more informed choices, motivating facilities to improve their performance, and allowing research studies of regulatory effectiveness and other performance-related issues. More specific benefits might include better understanding on the part of the public relative to the kinds of information that have been collected, such as a greater appreciation for the quality, complexity, and potential usability of the data for specific purposes. Even if individual firms do not change their behavior in response to data posting, overall food safety could improve if information about performance leads consumers to favor high-performing facilities, effectively resulting in a shift in the composition of the market.

The benefits of releasing FSIS data must be balanced against potential unintended adverse consequences, the report says. These could include impacts on facilities’ profitability, possible misinterpretation of the data, pressure on inspector performance, and unintentional release of proprietary or confidential information. However, the committee concluded that while adverse impacts are possible, there is limited systematic evidence documenting their likelihood.
Because of the complexity of issues associated with public release of data with facility names and the potential for adverse effects, the report suggests the need for an effective disclosure plan to inform the process. For example, potential adverse effects could be minimized if FSIS ensures the data’s integrity, provides definitions of what is being quantified, and is careful to protect confidential information associated with particular facilities. To help make sure that the public release of the data will be useful, the committee suggested that FSIS define a timetable for its release and commit the resources necessary to allow the data’s accessibility, quality, and timeliness.

Additionally, the report recommends that FSIS consult with other agencies that have released detailed regulatory data on the performance of individual facilities or firms, such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Enforcement and Compliance History Online (ECHO), the U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration, and several states and local public health departments that have released data on restaurant hygiene and inspection grading.

Below is one of our contributions to providing such public information.

So it goes.

Filion, K. and Powell, D.A. 2009. The use of restaurant inspection disclosure systems as a means of communicating food safety information. Journal of Foodservice 20: 287-297.
The World Health Organization estimates that up to 30% of individuals in developed countries become ill from food or water each year. Up to 70% of these illnesses are estimated to be linked to food prepared at foodservice establishments. Consumer confidence in the safety of food prepared in restaurants is fragile, varying significantly from year to year, with many consumers attributing foodborne illness to foodservice. One of the key drivers of restaurant choice is consumer perception of the hygiene of a restaurant. Restaurant hygiene information is something consumers desire, and when available, may use to make dining decisions.

UK supermarket chain wants cameras in abattoirs to control cruelty

In early 2008, the Humane Society of the United States released video documenting animal abuse at Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Co. of Chino, Calif., secretly shot by an undercover employee.

That $100-million-a-year company does not exist anymore – brought down by someone using an over-the-counter video recording device.
In April 2009, Cargill Beef announced it had implemented a third-party video-auditing system that would operate 24 hours a day at its U.S. beef plants to enhance the company’s animal welfare protection systems. All of Cargill’s U.S. plants were expected to have the program in place by the end of 2009.

In Feb. 2010, Cargill announced it would expand its remote video auditing program to monitor food-safety procedures within processing plants.

Last week, a new undercover video investigation by a national animal welfare group claimed to show disturbing conditions at a Texas farm operated by the country’s largest egg producer and distributor.

?The Humane Society of the United States said that one of their investigators documented a range of filthy, unsanitary conditions while working at a Cal-Maine Foods operation in Texas over a five-week period this fall. A five-minute video produced by the group shows hens confined in overcrowded cages with rotting corpses, dead and injured birds trapped in cages, eggs covered in feces, and escaped hens floating in manure pits.?

The images are a stark contrast to the clean white birds and eggs featured in the video on the Cal-Maine corporate website.

On Nov, 19, 2010, The Independent reported that Morrisons became the first U.K. supermarket to promise to install CCTV at its abattoirs to reassure the public. The RSPCA called for other chains to follow suit. The supermarket said CCTV images from its Colne and Turriff abattoirs would be stored for 30 days and made available to the Food Standards Agency (FSA). Spokesman Martyn Fletcher said: "Our customers want to know that animals are treated well through the slaughtering process and we believe installing CCTV cameras is the best way to demonstrate we have the highest possible standards."

Slaughterhouse cruelty has been under the spotlight after Animal Aid captured breaches of welfare laws at six out of seven randomly selected abattoirs – including one supplying organic meat, where pigs were kicked in the face.

September’s footage from F Drury & Sons reinforces the suspicion many, if not most, of the 370 abattoirs in England and Wales break the rules.

Speaking on behalf of F Drury & Sons, the Association of Independent Meat Suppliers said the 20-second rule had been designed for religious slaughter when animals are not stunned. "The likelihood of a stunned animal being conscious is extremely small," said its veterinary officer Stephen Lomax. "This is not an animal welfare issue."

He blamed government vets for not alerting owners to the "deplorable" abuse found elsewhere. He said: "There’s no excuse for all the self-serving arguments the FSA gives about these vets [monitoring abattoirs] not having enough time. They spend a great deal of time phoning their boyfriends, reading the newspaper or filling in useless forms. The system has failed."

The FSA initially denied illegality at F Drury & Sons, but changed its mind when challenged.

Companies would protect their brand and build trust with the buying public by having their own video to supplement claims of humane handling and food safety.