Safety or Perceived Safety
Beef Community Safety Efforts
- Beef farmers and ranchers care about the safety of the food we eat, too, and work hard to ensure the beef we raise for your family and theirs is safe. All beef – whether grain-finished, grass-finished, certified organic or natural -- goes through the same rigorous inspection process and is subject to strict government guidelines to ensure the highest level of safety.
- Throughout the beef lifecycle farmers and ranchers take precautions to guarantee safety for themselves and their cattle. Healthy cattle are critical to producing safe beef and the beef community has long had a commitment to producing safe beef across all sectors of the beef lifecycle, starting with cow/calf farms and ranches.
- During a beef animal’s time on the farm/ranch and feedyard, it may undergo many animal health and herd management practices to aid in the production of safe beef, including measures to keep their cattle comfortable and cared for such as clean feed and water, appropriately drained and maintained environments, and relative freedom from pests.
- Some of the feedstuffs that cattle consume are genetically modified organisms or GMOs, like corn, soybeans, canola, alfalfa and cotton. Numerous studies, government agencies, scientific organizations and leading health associations—including the World Health Organization, the American Medical Association, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, and the British Royal Society—have concluded that bioengineered crops are as safe to eat as plants modified by conventional plant breeding.
- The harvest process has evolved over the years based on scientific research to ensure both humane animal treatment and the production of safe food. Federally-inspected facilities are under continuous observation by USDA's food safety and inspection service (FSIS) personnel to ensure compliance with all regulations.
- The beef community has invested more than $35 million in beef safety research and outreach since 1993, when E. coli O157:H7 first became a safety concern in ground beef products. Most of this research and other efforts to date have focused on controlling E. coli and Salmonella in the slaughter process, essentially to prevent bacteria from the intestines or hides of animals from coming into contact with the meat surface.
- These efforts, in collaboration with other food industries, have contributed to the reduction of E. coli O157 illnesses to less than one incidence per 100,000 people across all food products as tracked by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Beef Safety Research (Pre and Post-Harvest; BIFSCO)
- Safety has been a major focus in the meat industry since the passage of the Meat Inspection Act in 1906 but safety efforts in the beef industry have intensified since the 1990s.
- In 1993, more than 600 people fell ill after eating hamburgers at Jack-in-the-Box restaurants contaminated with a little known bacterium called E. coli O157:H7. The Jack-in-the-Box outbreak prompted changes in state and federal health codes, the internal cooking temperature recommendation for ground beef was raised to 155 degrees and E. coli-related illness became a reportable disease in all 50 state health departments.
- In the mid-1990s the beef community began funding research and formed the Beef Industry Food Safety Council (BIFSCO) to share best practices throughout the industry for preventing E. coli contamination.
- Every slaughter facility is required to have a plan to specifically address identified risk points in the plant and incorporate interventions to combat pathogenic contamination like trimming the carcass to remove visible fecal matter that may be harboring Salmonella, E. coli or other non-O157:H7 Shiga-toxin producing E. coli (STEC) as part of the FSIS “zero tolerance” performance standard for fecal contamination.
- Other bacterial interventions that are used to increase beef safety include chemical decontamination and thermal decontamination. Chemical decontamination involves spraying a low-concentrate (1-3 percent) of organic chemical agent such as acetic or lactic acid to the carcass to reduce the potential for bacteria to grow on carcass tissue.
- Research efforts have studied pre-harvest interventions, such as vaccines, feed additives/ingredients and management practice changes to reduce the potential for cattle to carry pathogenic bacteria like E. coli O157:H7 or Salmonella.
Role of Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS)
- American consumers can be confident that the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) ensures that meat and poultry products are safe, wholesome and correctly labeled and packaged.
- Under the Federal Meat Inspection Act, FSIS inspects all raw meat and poultry sold in interstate and foreign commerce, including imported products. The Agency also monitors meat and poultry products after they leave federally inspected facilities.
- FSIS conducts both random sampling and sampling for targeted substances. This monitoring provides a 95 percent assurance that a residue of any targeted substance is detected if it occurs in more than 1 percent of product lots.
- FSIS inspectors are responsible for conducting a thorough examination of the entire carcass in addition to inspecting raw and fully cooked products including smoked products, canned meats and even frozen dinners.
- Beef from federally inspected facilities is subject to inspection by trained USDA officials that evaluate every carcass for wholesomeness and state inspected facilities follow similar practices with state inspectors. Meat that has been federally inspected and passed for wholesomeness is stamped with purple food-grade vegetable dye on each of the main sections of the carcass.
- By law, no meat sold in the United States is allowed to contain antibiotic residues that violate FDA standards. The USDA food safety and inspection service (FSIS) conducts tests to ensure beef products entering the food supply do not contain antibiotic levels that violate FDA standards. FSIS also tests beef for growth promotant residues at harvest to ensure compliance with FDA-established safe levels.
- Although every precaution is taken to ensure that only beef that is safe for human consumption leaves the processing facility. In the event of a recall, FSIS recalls not only the suspect beef but several batches of beef that were produced both before and after the suspect batch to ensure that all potentially affected beef is recalled and is done in the best effort to avoid potentially unsafe beef from reaching retail outlets and ultimately, consumer dinner tables.
Lean, Finely Textured Beef
- Consumers may recognize the term “pink slime” from the media surrounding a ground beef product called Lean Finely Textured Beef. Lean Finely Textured Beef is produced by separating the fat on the beef trimmings from the lean using a high speed centrifuge and then misting the product with either ammonium hydroxide or citric acid.
- Lean Finely Textured Beef is 100 percent beef and 94-97 percent lean and only 3-6 percent fat. The nutrition profile of lean finely textured beef is virtually identical to 90 percent lean/10 percent fat ground beef.
- Ammonium hydroxide and citric acid are chemical decontaminants that can be used for beef trimmings to combat E. coli, Salmonella and other non-O157:H7 STEC and are considered Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS), a term used to describe food additives that have been reviewed and approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use in food production.
- The production and use of Lean Finely Textured Beef allows the beef community to produce more lean beef using fewer cattle. In fact, if lean, finely textured beef is not produced, 1.5 million additional head of cattle would need to be slaughtered annually to make up the difference which, as you can imagine, has a substantial impact on natural resources and sustainability.
- Lean Finely Textured Beef is produced from trimmings that are 100 percent edible meat. These trimmings are simply the lean beef removed from the meat and fat that is trimmed away when beef is cut into steaks and roasts.
- Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy is a rare degenerative, neurological cattle disease caused by mis-folded proteins called prions that build up in the central nervous of cattle and eventually kill nerve cells in the animal’s brain.
- Typically BSE only affects cattle older than 30 months of age. It’s important to remember that most cattle in the U.S. are slaughtered younger than 24 months of age and are not susceptible to BSE.
- While BSE has not been found in meat or milk, it can be found in affected cattle in brain and spinal cord tissue. To prevent the transfer of potential prions to meat, USDA requires that all cattle older than 30 months of age undergo the removal of specified risk materials (SRMs) such as the brain, spinal cord and surrounding bone during slaughter.
- Another piece of the BSE surveillance program in the U.S. is the mandate that all cattle with any signs of neurological disorder, regardless of age, be tested for BSE and not allowed to enter the human food chain.
- Furthermore, downer cattle – cattle that cannot stand or walk on their own – were banned from the food supply in 2004. While not all downer cattle pose a potential health threat, the downer ban is a precaution taken to ensure the safety of the American beef supply from BSE.
- A percentage of carcasses from downed cattle are tested by the USDA and are not released into the food supply unless the results are negative. While this is one potential sign of a neurological disorder, a downed animal could also be caused by an injured leg or other ailment.
- Only four animals have tested positive for BSE in the U.S. and the meat from those animals did not enter the food supply. There has never been a case of the human form of Mad Cow Disease linked to consuming beef in the United States.
- FMD is a virus that only affects animals with cloven (or divided) hoofs, such as cattle, sheep, swine and goats. It does not affect horses, dogs or cats. Foot-and-mouth disease is a serious animal disease, but it is not a public health or food safety concern.
- Public health experts, including those with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization, agree that foot-and-mouth disease is not a threat to food safety or public health.
- Meat and pasteurized milk products from animals with FMD are safe to consume. In general, you should always follow safe handling and cooking instructions and drink pasteurized milk to protect your family's health.
- FMD is not the same as Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease (HFMD), a common childhood illness. Although the names are similar, the two diseases are not related and are caused by very different viruses, according to the CDC.
- Visit www.usda.gov and www.FootAndMouthDiseaseInfo.org for the latest information.
Role of Consumers in Beef Safety (Proper Handling and Cooking Procedures)
- Consumers also play a large role in food safety as well. It is critical for consumers to understand the importance of properly thawing and preparing beef, avoiding temperature abuse and cooking it to the proper temperature.
- Purchasing and preparing beef safely is just as important as the way beef is raised, slaughtered and processed. Keeping raw beef cold, below 41 degrees F, until you are ready to prepare it will ensure a more consistent meal that is more flavorful. Consumers should refrigerate beef products immediately upon returning home from the grocery store or freeze beef for later use. Consumers should avoid allowing beef to be outside of refrigeration for extended periods of time.
- The order in which you buy your groceries is important. You should purchase your refrigerated products such as beef and milk last so that they spend as much time as possible in the refrigeration unit and as little time as possible the cart. Additionally, you should never place raw meat products next to grocery items that don’t have to be cooked.
- Perhaps one of the most crucial parts of preparing beef in-home is to pay close attention to the potential for cross-contamination. Never use the same utensils or cutting boards for cooked beef or uncooked foods such as fruits and vegetables that were also used for raw beef. All utensils and plates should be washed thoroughly with hot, soapy water before being reused.
- Cooking beef properly destroys potentially harmful pathogens such as E. coli, Salmonella and Listeria monocytogenes. Regardless of the method of cooking, all whole muscle beef cuts, such as steaks and roasts, should be cooked to at least 145 degrees F and ground beef should be cooked to 160 degrees F. After removing from heat, consumers should allow beef to rest for three minutes before serving.
- By following proper handling, thawing and cooking food safety procedures, consumers can be confident that they are serving their family beef that is wholesome and safe.
- Growth promotants typically are administered through a small pellet, called an implant, which is placed under the skin on the back of an animal’s ear. They also can be administered through an animal’s feed. Either way, growth promotants are metabolized by the animal prior to slaughter.
- The safety of growth promoting products used in cattle production is ensured through several layers of requirements, which are enforced by multiple government agencies. First, growth promotants are required to go through a comprehensive, multi-step review process conducted by scientists to ensure animal health and food safety. If approved, these products then are re-evaluated by FDA annually and only remain in the marketplace if they are continually proven safe.
- Often consumers hear that cattle are “pumped full” of hormones but the reality is a very small amount of hormone is delivered through a small implant placed under the skin behind the ear of the animal.
- The FDA requires a withdrawal period between when an animal is treated and when it can go to slaughter and these withdrawal times are strictly followed and enforced by regular testing and inspection by FSIS inspectors during slaughter and processing.
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