The Answer to How Safe is Your Ground Beef? is VERY!

Much is a buzz over the Consumer Reports article How Safe is Your Beef? where 300 samples of retail ground were analyzed for bacteria between grass and grain fed beef highlighting best results as “sustainable” beef.

When a CBS Morning News anchor asked Urvashi Rangan, Ph.D. & Executive Director for the Center for Food Safety & Sustainability at Consumer Reports, “Shouldn’t we suspect some bacteria in any beef?”, her answer was all telling, “Absolutely”. So, what’s the beef with ground?

Buedel Fine MeatsPictured above: Three different headlines tell the same story. Kudos to CBS News (center) for taking the high road!

Getting the Facts Straight

Let’s get one thing straight: all raw meat has bacteria on it. The North American Meat Institute (NAMI) documents the following:

1. Some of that bacteria [found in the report] such as certain types of Enterococci, are not pathogens and are actually beneficial like probiotics in yogurt. Clostridium perfringens and Staphylococcus aureus are typically associated with time and temperature abuse of cooked products and generally come from contamination after food is handled. All bacteria, antibiotic resistant or not, are killed with proper cooking to the recommended temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. The bacteria identified in the Consumer Reports testing is not the bacteria that cause foodborne illness. Bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus and generic E. coli are commonly found in the environment and are not pathogenic bacteria, meaning they do not cause foodborne illness. The primary pathogens of concern in raw ground beef are Salmonella and Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC). These are not mentioned or reported in their findings.

3. The number one industry priority is producing the safest meat and poultry possible. This is done by focusing attention on bacteria which are most likely to make people sick, particularly E. coli O157:H7 and other Shiga toxin-producing E. coli. It is telling that Consumer Reports did not highlight finding these bacteria on products they tested as a strong indication of the overall safety of beef.

It’s also important to note Consumer Reports did not approach the industry for scientific data on the subject material nor make their data available to the industry for evaluation.

Safety in Numbers

Rangan went on to say, “The question here is, can we get it better?”

NAMI says the Consumer Reports data is staggeringly inconsistent with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (USDA FSIS) data which shows that E. coli O157:H7 occurs at a rate of less than one tenth of one percent in ground beef products. This has been reduced 93 percent since 2000.

You’d think a 90+ percentage improvement rate should be something to talk about. But the report makes no mention of that, or the highly regulated nature of the industry when it comes to food safety to begin with.

Federal compliance via on site inspectors takes place daily in meat plants to ensure food safety rules and technologies used to destroy bacteria are all in place and working. Some companies, like Buedel, also add a third layer of independent audits to their safety protocols.

Between regulating agencies and the industry itself, what kind of ‘better’ is Ms. Rangan really angling for here?

Cause Reporting

Throughout the news segment, Rangan compared each study finding between conventional beef [grain fed] and non-conventional beef [“sustainable, organic, natural and grass-fed”] to demonstrate conventional beef always had more bacteria.

NAMI also points out the use of, “Organic, Natural and Grass-fed are marketing terms that are not an accurate indicator of either sustainability or safety. All beef production models can be sustainable. The path to more sustainable beef is to ensure that every beef producer is utilizing the resources available in their part of the country to the best of their ability – whether grass, grain or other locally-produced renewable feeds like distillers grains.”

A quick visit to the Consumer Reports Facebook page reveals an ulterior agenda:

Buedel Fine MeatsFor those of you who aren’t familiar, Consumers Union (CU), is the non-profit “policy and action division” of Consumer Reports – a magazine published by Consumers Union. CU describes themselves as, “an expert, independent, nonprofit organization whose mission is to work for a fair, just and safe marketplace for all consumers and to empower consumers to protect themselves.

Herein lies a huge problem for readers today, when cause masquerades as media.

To be an ‘expert’ in anything you need to have a deep command of the knowledge base on all fronts. This article is filled with quotes from Consumer Reports own department heads, Grass-fed cattle farmers, and an epidemiologist from the CDC.

There were no quotes from actual food scientists (federal or corporate) nor grain fed cattle farmers, food retailers, industry media, leaders, professional groups and the like. Talking to the Department of Agriculture should have been a slam dunk at the very least.

There is also no mention of the politically based Facebook post in the online published article either. Other than this social nudge: We urge you to #BuyBetterBeef and continue the conversation with us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Vine.

Wrap Up

If you’re still not sure whether How Safe is Your Ground Beef? is a valued news or views piece, perhaps their article disclaimer will help:

Editor’s Note: Funding for this project was provided by The Pew Charitable Trusts. Any views expressed are those of Consumer Reports and its policy and advocacy arm, Consumers Union and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Pew Charitable Trusts.

The takeaway on this is threefold: 1) Food safety is alive and well in the beef industry. 2) Always cook your beef to 160°. 3) Beware of expert media crusading cause.

Additional Reads & Resources

https://www.meatinstitute.org/index.php?ht=d/sp/i/106823/pid/106823

http://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/data-collection-and-reports/microbiology/ec/e-coli-o157h7-year-to-date/ecoli-o157-raw-beef-testing-data-ytd

http://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/newsroom/news-releases-statements-transcripts

http://meatmythcrushers.com/myths/myth-grass-fed-beef-is-safer-than-corn-fed-beef.php

http://meatmythcrushers.com/myths/myth-superbugs-are-on-most-meat-and-poultry.php

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Meat Merchandising │Next & Best Outlooks with Catie Beauchamp

The daughter of a hog farmer, Catie Beauchamp says she always knew she wanted to be in “AG” when she grew up. Today she is the VP of Technical Services at Colorado Premium, with a Ph.D. in Meat Safety & Quality.

Beauchamp’s3.18CPstaffpic (2) command of the beef production chain is highly astute, which includes, animal transport, harvest, carcass chilling, fabrication, grinding and storage. Her expertise in food technologies and safety is rivaled only by a laser focused passion for creating the best products for her customers.

How did you actually get into the “meat business”?

I knew I always wanted to be involved with agriculture, but on the nutrition side, which is what I started with in college. Then along the way, you meet people – in food microbiology and food production. That is how I came to do my graduate work in food science, meat science, and meat microbiology.

What do your days look like now?

From a departmental perspective, we do quality assurance, food safety, regulatory compliance, tech support for customers and R&D. We work in a high energy environment. When I started at CP [six years ago] we had 80-100 people and one production facility. Now we have three production facilities and two storage facilities. At any given time we have 30 projects in process. Our rate of commercialization is about 50% – it’s incredible!

What is your favorite part of your job?

My favorite area would be R&D. It’s fun to look into the future. You’re getting constant challenges, and when you resolve it, it’s a win. I love to create new products.

How do you do that with meat?

What we’re dealing with is an animal is that’s getting bigger and bigger. We have to address: How do we cut that? How should we process that? What do we need to do to have a good plate experience? You have to look at different cuts of meat in the carcass. There are other things we can use for things you wouldn’t expect.

For example, thin meats [flan3.19 CP Antimicrobial Interventionks, inside and outside skirts] are expensive, yet popular – but there’s only so much to be had because it’s such a small portion of the carcass. We can create new thin meats from other muscles that can mimic traditional thin meats. Skirts are expensive because they are in high demand and come from the small portion of the carcass. (Pictured Above: Antimicrobial Intervention Cabinet at one of Colorado Premium’s production facilities.)

Is it possible to come up with new steak cuts – like the Vegas Steak?

Yes, and no. The muscles without a lot of defects are pretty well known, but there should be a couple more ‘Vegas Steaks’ possible.

The combinations of muscles are standard in the Meat Buying Guide, but for a Packer to create a whole new SKU, break the muscles differently, etc., there has to be a market for it. You need to be able to merchandise all of it, plus find new ways to produce value.

From a steak perspective, the new novel items are going to have to be addressed in ways they haven’t been before, we need to look at fabricating. In addition to proper aging, tenderizing and injections, we’re going to have to look outside the box for processing.

Injection is a hot trend, how does that work from a production standpoint?

We marinate a lot of products, whether it’s tumble margination or injection. We do it for retail and food service. From a retail perspective, we provide products that are cook ready. From a food service perspective, we’re giving a little bit of insurance to meat drying out when cooked, especially for less than prime products.

How many speci3.19 PORK ROAST 2 - CITRUS HERBal service requests are you getting?

It depends on what market sector you’re talking about. In food service, restaurant groups are constantly reinventing themselves to stay competitive, usually on an annual basis. We work with a lot of up and coming concepts; our food service customers want to be on top of what’s new and available. (Pictured Left: Citrus Herb Pork Roast exclusively developed for a private label customer.)

In retail, the Millennials have impacted our business in a big way – they want clean labels, have more adventurous palettes, etc. Low sodium, clean labels and animal handling are key issues.

What is your definition of a ‘clean label’?

There are two sides to that question; one is the actual protein product itself. A portion of the population is interested in the use of antibiotics in animal feeding, etc. However, that’s still at a niche level and cost is also prohibitive for a lot of consumers.

The second part speaks to an ingredient perspective: people want to see things familiar to them on a retail package. (Food service is now adopting to that too.) Some ingredients are preservatives, some are for shelf life, but there’s also antimicrobials that ensure safety. Helping our customer base understand the purpose of antimicrobials is important to food safety.

What are your expectations on cattle supply?

As we start increasing the cattle supply we’ll be looking at something different – you still have areas in your prime states that don’t have water, plus other weather interferences that occur. There are people being weeded out of production groups that may never come back.

It’s very hard to project what volumes we’re going to have. The historical trends, peaks, and valleys can be thrown off trend, even when supply and demand are better. When consumers are paying higher prices, we need to produce healthy and affordable proteins. We have to get really good at how we merchandise beef.

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Food Safety Profile: SQF, Exports, Protocols & Service

By Tim Vlcek

Helping customers in their kitchens.

Over the last ten years, food safety has become a critical part of the food industry. When the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) was signed into law in 2011, it was said to be “the most sweeping reform” of U.S. food safety in 70 years, shifting the focus from reactive to preventive standardization.

Food manufacturers are attached at the hip to the USDA on many levels, dedicated to HACCP processing standards and ever evolving with safety certifications domestically and abroad.

Considering the pinnacle points of food manufacturing are, price, quality and food safety, it’s ironic that food safety is the least talked about – there are no marketing initiatives for food safety.

More ironic is the fact that if you’re not investing in this, your business will suffer. The bigger companies invest deeply in food safety, which is why they get the bigger accounts too.

The FYI on SQF

The SQF (Safe Quality Food) certification is required by every major retailer. It proves your business has met the stringent criteria for safe food production. This is important stuff when you think about the volume of vendors involved in the food supply chain from start to finish.

The certification is performed bySQFlogo independent companies and is not an easy process. It takes 12 to 18 months on average to get approved, and can cost as much as $50,000. The size of your company has no bearing on this process either – Whole Foods wants that SQF regardless.

Buedel Fine Meats just received SQF certification (for which we are very proud) – our journey started last December. The final audit was last week; the process includes a desk audit (on site or remotely performed) and then an on-site examination of your company’s records, protocols, processing, etc. The auditors will physically go through your facility with a fine tooth comb over a grueling two day period. Many companies don’t even try to get SQF certified because the criteria is so tough; getting approved and receiving SQF certification is a big accomplishment.

Global Expansion

When a food company takes that first step into global trade they need to acquire “global certification”. In selling domestically, you know the rules and your customer base inside and out – exporting, however, changes everything.

Benchmarking2Every country you do business with has specific requirements, and once you meet them you will need to evaluate them consistently for changes. Japan, for example, is holding vendors accountable for certain anti- microbial compounds. This list is ever evolving, and it’s up to your business to stay on top of them, and bear any on-site audits conducted by the USDA.

For exporting beef, you will be required to write up a program dedicated for exporting that includes source verification and tracing raw materials. Collaborative efforts by the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) have helped pave the way for achieving global standardization.

Our company is currently exporting to Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan. You can research all companies approved for export on the USDA’s Agriculture Marketing Service (AMS) website.

Safety and Service

Food processors and manufacturers are ultimately liable for the products they sell. It is a trickle down affect that commands safety and service be a top priority.

For refrigerated and frozen foods, managing the cold chain is crucial to ensure product integrity and safety. When a customer signs for their invoice, their purchase may have already been temperature checked, “temped”, numerous times – from the production line, to storage, packing, shipping, etc. The customer needs to feel confident that food quality has been maintained at all times.

Getting the highest yield is crucial to efficiency.

It is equally critical for sellers to help their customers handle food correctly – wherever they may fall in the supply chain. We work with our restaurant and hospitality operators consistently to help with shelf life and proper storage.

When we see cold chain management problems at our customers’ locations, often times, it comes down to a question of how and where they are storing their meat. Meat should be stored under 35 degrees, but that’s too cold for dairy and produce; ideally meat should be stored in a separate cooler. If that’s not possible, then meat should be stored near the back of a cooler, to avoid spoilage from the front of the cooler where the door is constantly being opened letting warm air in.

When operators want to do in-house processing, cutting and/or packaging, they also need to become acutely aware of food safety procedures.  An ideal rule to follow is to have a HACCP plan in place. Part of the services we provide include helping our customers with HACCP advice and protocols. It is to our mutual benefit when we are able to review their objectives and actually work with them on their own plans and protocols whenever we can.

Key Takeaways

Get to know your supplier. At Buedel Fine Meats, we visit our suppliers and get to know the person in charge of production and food quality – we are just as much a customer to our suppliers as we are a vendor to our customers. We recommend you talk with your suppliers about their safety protocols and what issues they may or may not be having.

Gather information.  Ask your suppliers for the specifications on their products. For example, what are their tolerances, level of trim, etc.? It’s to your benefit to be as familiar with your suppliers as you can. This is especially noteworthy for operators who do their own in-house meat cutting for safe food handling and yield cost management.  If you’re cutting your own meat in-house, audit yourself – always.  If you see actual yields off from what you expected, you could be losing money on every order. Does something just seem visually off? Take the time to take a second look.

Food safety and service go hand in hand.

We encourage our customers to visit our facility. When we take on new accounts we invite their entire staff to come in and see how their products are received, manufactured and delivered under our GMP’s (Good Manufacturing Practices) and SQF.

From the desk of  John Cecala   @BuedelFineMeats   Fan Page   Slideshare

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