Carcass-testing program puts Marcho Farms on the hunt for big six E. coli

Wayne Marcho, founder of Marcho Farm, has according to this story, had a long history of investment into doing “what’s right” by the company and its consumers — the most recent evidence occurring when its continuous-improvement efforts were turned toward its already-strong food-safety record.

marchoFarmsLogo“We want to be a leader in food safety,” explains Brian Friesen, president of the Harleysville, Pa.-based veal processor. “We’ve had a history of performing extremely well, better than published averages, on our pathogen testing and felt we’re ready to push it up another notch.”

A bump toward this target came, in many ways, from the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) declaration in late 2011 that the “Big 6” non-O157 shiga-toxin producing E. coli serogroups (STECs) would be deemed adulterants. Soon afterward, Marcho Farms saw plenty of information on STECs available for beef processors, but little offered around handling these pathogens for veal processors. As a result, Marcho Farms reached out to Mohammad Koohmaraie, Ph.D., and his team at IEH Laboratories & Consulting Group for assistance.

Among the options discussed with Marcho Farms was a unique approach to pathogen testing that Dr. Mansour Samadpour of IEH Laboratories had developed and Koohmaraie encouraged the Marcho team to consider implementing. The procedures, which are patented by IEH Laboratories, had received a letter of no objection (LNO) from FSIS in 2012, but had yet to be put into a real-world plant. Marcho Farms would soon become that first facility.

One of the reasons Marcho Farms has been successful in actually executing on its continuous-improvement initiatives is its small, long-tenured workforce. When the company embarks upon a mission, it includes the entire team of stakeholders from the processing floor on up through the executive management. With its food-safety strategies, Marcho Farms has acted no differently.

Bob Russell, general manager at Marcho Farms, says the plant used trim testing to verify its sanitary dressing procedures, but even having a small kill floor team, it slowed the process of solving issues when they occurred.

“I can say the kill-floor team is very engaged in what we do,” he says. “But it’s difficult to go back and ask them, ‘Let’s see now, it’s Thursday morning, do you remember what we did differently on Monday?’”

Koohmaraie’s pathogen-testing proposal struck Russell as the innovative process the plant needed, the first piece of the puzzle for Marcho Farms to take that coveted next step.

“Koohmaraie’s team looked at beef trim differently than everybody else — they looked at the pitfalls of trim testing, did DNA testing inside a combo bin and found as many as 40 carcasses,” Russell explains. “So, there’s at least [12 categories of carcass quality and weight ranges] off the kill, and if you have a positive and try to find which one it was, it’s mission impossible. Even as small as we are and as slow as we run, it’s still difficult to go back and say exactly where the process failed.”

For Marcho Farms, however, its size mattered, making the transition simpler. The changes needed to adopt the carcass-testing process were not logistically difficult, says Rick Mesaris, QA/Food Safety manager for Marcho Farms. The plant needed to create a new work station directly in the carcass cooler, immediately after the final carcass-spray intervention, and had to develop a plan to ensure random testing and site selection on the carcasses.

“As far as manpower for collecting the carcass samples, we morphed those positions into it from the trim testing,” he adds. “And I think carcass testing is actually a little bit easier for them, because they don’t have to dig through a box looking for carcass surface: It’s right there in front of them.”