I received a private email from a blog site visitor a few weeks ago asking a combination of questions regarding food safety and sustainability. While I feel as though I have hit the topic of environmental sustainability thoroughly over the past year, food safety plays an important role in the discussion and a post covering it seems appropriate.
- I grow it.
- I eat it.
- I feed it to my children.
- I cannot control Mother Nature. My savvy as a farmer increased when I realized that my “job” was not to control, but rather to work to build harmony – to bend and adjust my farming practices in order to positively blend with what Mother Nature gives to me.
- The world is not black and white. We all exist in the “gray area” and every choice that we make has consequences. Every day I use both practical skills and science to put “the pieces of the puzzle together” in order to best use the resources of the farm. I want it to be on the “white end” of the gray, and I need it to both thrive in the present and to remain healthy to protect for the future. My farm has a footprint – my life has a footprint – everyone’s does. There is no perfect answer to any challenge– simply an array of choices that each has both positive and negative influences.
When I think of the topic of food safety, I think that both of those “life lessons learned on the farm” come into play. Mother Nature drives my farm. I cannot change weather patterns, nor can I change naturally occurring scientific evolution. What I can do is manage the resources and the animals on my farm to be as close to harmony as possible. While I recognize that I will never be perfect, I do work resolutely toward continuous improvement.
Bacteria exists universally on the planet earth. Normal micro-flora live in the rumen of cattle that can be pathogenic to humans. Let’s use Ecoli 0157:H7 as an example. Bovines provide natural “host” environments for these bacteria – the bacteria does not negatively affect the animals, but we discovered in 1993 that they could negatively affect us. In the ensuing 20+ years, scientists and farmers along with government regulatory agencies have focused on improving the safety of hamburger utilizing a united food production chain effort.
System wide food safety mechanisms follow the structure of HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points). They start on the farm, continue at the packing plant and retail distributor, and end with your kitchen. Let’s take a moment to look at all of the ecoli food safety mechanisms that occur with hamburger grown on my farm.
On My Farm
When bacteria are a concern, isolation and containment are critical. We know that many different strains of ecoli exist naturally in the environment (some are harmful to humans, some are not). These bacteria exist in pasture based growing systems (ranches) as well as feed yards — on conventional farms as well as organic farms. Good sanitation programs are vital components in a holistic food safety system. Clean water tanks, clean feed, clean living spaces, and clean equipment lead to a reduction in the spread of bacteria.
One of the three pillars to the Progressive Beef QSA is food safety. The majority of the 39 Progressive Beef Standard Operating Procedures that I use to manage my feed yard pertain to sanitation because the farmers in our BMG Cooperative recognize what a critical role we play in delivering a safe and healthy beef eating experience.
I also feed a direct fed microbial called Bovamine Defend to all of the cattle on my farm. This all natural product reduces both the amount of Ecoli 0157:H7 in the rumen (stomach) of my animals as well as inhibits the spread of the bacteria from one animal to another. My packing plant partner, Tyson, measures the amount of ecoli in the groups of cattle arriving at their facilities and reports that animals fed Bovamine Defend have ecoli levels 50-70% lower than animals not fed Bovamine Defend. There are multiple scientific studies that consistently report the effectiveness of this all natural product in reducing ecoli levels in cattle. I believe this to be a critical component to my personal “food safety” footprint.
At the Packing Plant
The last 20 years have seen enormous food safety strides at the packing plant level. New technologies such as: Hide cleansing, steam vaccums, organic acids, thermal treatments, as well as chilling and sanitation practices all provide multiple layers in a stringent food safety regime. You can learn more about these practices by visiting the Beef Industry Food Safety Council website (BIFSCO).
You can also play an important role in food safety by using good sanitation and cooking practices in your kitchen. Disinfect utensils and counter surfaces as well as your own hands after handling raw meat. Cook your hamburger to 160 degrees which will eliminate/kill any bacteria that might be present.
Food safety is vital to all of us. We must eat to live, and we must eat safely to remain healthy. A team effort provides multiple layers of protection and ensures a nutritious and safe eating experience for each and every one of us.
Safe and Healthy Beef