The Centers for Disease Control explains “ [that] some kinds of E. coli cause disease by making a toxin called Shiga toxin. The bacteria that make these toxins are called “Shiga toxin-producing” E. coli, or STEC for short. You might hear these bacteria called verocytotoxic E. coli (VTEC) or enterohemorrhagic E. coli (EHEC); these all refer generally to the same group of bacteria. The strain of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli O104:H4 that caused a large outbreak in Europe in 2011 was frequently referred to as EHEC. The most commonly identified STEC in North America is E. coli O157:H7 (often shortened to E. coli O157 or even just “O157”). When you hear news reports about outbreaks of “E. coli” infections, they are usually talking about E. coli O157” (http://www.cdc.gov/ecoli/general/index.html#difference ).
The way that meat becomes contaminated with E.coli is when feces, or ingesta is makes it onto the outside of a carcass. E.coli is a naturally occurring bacterium that is always present in the intestinal tracts of animals and people. It is impossible to completely eliminate all traces of E.coli but it can be brought within safe thresholds by taking several important steps. The article by the CDC talks about meat plants having a HAACP plan in place and that this is not sufficient because it is designed and executed by the processor and not the government. While it is true that our HAACP plan at RSMC is designed by us it is not true that there is no enforcement behind it. Perhaps because we are so small there is even more oversight than you might find at a larger factory slaughterhouse. A HAACP plan is the written instructions for how we will control for food safety issues and what steps we will take if there is a deviation from the plan. The major hazard we are controlling for one is E.coli. As outlined in our plan and enforced by the USDA we use the following major steps to mitigate and eliminate bacteria (there is a whole lot of hand and knife washing that goes on continuously throughout the process).
All equipment, facilities and personnel are thoroughly cleaned and sanitized prior to slaughter. This is checked by both an employee and a USDA inspector before a slaughter commences.
- Care is taken to keep live animals as clean as possible
- When hides are removed from carcasses they are opened outwards away from the meat and pulled taught as to not touch the outside of the hide to the surface of the meat.
- After the hide and inedible parts of the insides have been removed a “zero-tolerance check” is performed. The zero tolerance check involves one person cutting off all visible contaminants (feces, ingesta, milk) found on the carcass while another person monitors their trimming. After this is complete a USDA inspector then looks over the carcass. If anything was missed the carcass is trimmed again. After this the carcass is washed with hot water. The hot water serves to both kill bacteria and provide and adequate surface for the final step.
- A Lactic Acid wash is then applied to each carcass. A combination of hot water wash, lactic acid application and dry aging (which we also do) have been shown to significantly reduce the amount of bacteria found on meat to levels considered safe for human consumption.
In addition to this RSMC keeps detailed records of these steps being performed for each animal and performs both generic E.coli and 0157 testing at several points throughout the year on both ground beef and cuts of meat. These steps are taken whether or not an animal is considered USDA inspected or not. We also have a recall plan in place in case of a possible outbreak we can track all of the meat that comes into our facility and where it went to so we can promptly alert our customers to any portential hazard.
Rising Spring Meat Company takes pride in ensuring that our standards for sanitation and food safety both meet and in some cases exceed those which have been outlined by federal regulations. All of our sanitation protocols are supported by scientific articles and are not just ideas we came up with on a whim. Because we are a small plant we have the ability to track and trace our products on a level that large operations cannot necessarily do. We also do not mix your meat with the meat from other producers. What you bring in is what you get back. If you ever have any questions as to more specific details of our daily operations we are happy to answer any and all questions. We also welcome visitors (please set up a time to come though). RSMC is committed to being a transparent operation that is an asset to our local food system. We are honored to have your business and wish you and yours a happy holiday season and peaceful new year.
The Staff at Rising Spring Meat Company