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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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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What Makes Meat Natural?

Many consumers assume that when a meat label says “Natural”, it is better for you, better for the environment and that the animals involved were raised without growth hormones or antibiotics in their natural environments.  However this is not necessarily always the case.  Many national brands loosely use the term “Natural” on their products without any of the above attributes being met – and it is perfectly legal to do so.

The USDA provides clear and specific definitions for “Natural” and “Organic” product labeling. It is important to understand that foods which meet USDA organic certification are authorized to use the “USDA Organic” seal, which has the word ‘organic’ on it. “Natural” labeling requirements per the USDA are quite different.

What the USDA Means by Natural

The definition of “Natural” according to the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service, the agency responsible for ensuring truthfulness and accuracy in labeling of meat and poultry products is as follows:

NATURAL  A product containing no artificial ingredient or added color and is only minimally processed. Minimal processing means the product is processed in a manner which does not fundamentally alter the product. The label must include a statement explaining the meaning of the term natural (such as “no artificial ingredients; minimally processed”).

Food labeling can be ambiguous and tough to digest at times (pardon the pun). The easiest way to grasp a firm comprehension for industry terms is to connect the dots between definition and application.

The USDA definition of Natural for fresh meats, such as beef, pork, veal and lamb, means the meat is processed (harvested at the packing plant) without using food additives during processing such as: flavor enhancers, food colorings, binders, nitrites, phosphates, and the like.  Again: USDA Natural means that meat was harvested at a packaging plant without using food additives.

Fresh meat packing plants that harvest beef, pork, veal or lamb and fabricate them into sub primal cuts for retail and food service, do so without fundamentally altering the meat with artificial ingredients or added colorings – this is standard practice today.

Technically then, meat packers can label many of their brands Natural and many do. This is evidenced by the plethora of brand names in the market today making natural claims on their labels poised with pictures and stories of beautiful farms and green pastures making you feel warm and fuzzy about the product you’re purchasing.

What You Expect from Natural …is probably missing

The USDA’s definition of “Natural” does not speak to the exclusion of growth hormones and antibiotics, or humane animal treatment or sustainable farming practices. But that’s what most consumers, Restaurateurs and Chefs are looking for when they want truly “Natural” meats.

How to Find the Natural You (Really) Want

For those looking for a more complete natural product, there are stricter label definitions for “Natural”  to keep watch for. Highly defined all Natural meats usually come with one or more of the following package statements:

Never/Ever Growth Hormones or Antibiotics  Animals raised in this program were never, ever, given growth hormones to accelerate weight gain and speed to market, nor were the animals given antibiotics during their lifetime. These animals are raised on an all natural 100% vegetarian diet up to harvest.

Humanely Raised  Animals are raised outdoors in open pastures where they are free to roam with plenty of access to food and water.  As compared to Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, “CAFOs”, where animals are raised in confined indoor industrial farming pens.

Sustainably Raised  These animals are raised in harmony with farming practices that preserve the land and water for future generations such as seasonal crop rotation and fewer animals per acre.  (The Chipolte restaurant chain presented an excellent illustration of sustainable practice in their last Super Bowl commercial.)

Quality, Cost & Satisfaction

One of the easiest ways to shop for high quality Natural meats is to become familiar with the brands which produce at this level.  Niman Ranch and Tallgrass Beef  are two industry leaders who employ the stricter definition of Natural. These types of brands do cost more than commodity meats and those brands claiming the lesser USDA definition of “Natural” on their label because it costs more to raise the animals these ways.

There is a growing trend for “Farm to Fork” foods and meats.  To make sure your values and needs are being met when choosing “Natural” meats, match your desires to the appropriate label definitions.

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From the desk of  John Cecala  Twitter @Buedel Fine Meats  Facebook  Buedel Fan Page

 

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1 of 10 Things (at the very least) the Food Industry Does Want You to Know

US News recently updated, 10 Things the Food Industry Doesn’t Want You to Know, originally published in 2008. The tenth thing speaks directly to my industry – meat.

Regurgitated negative news and the manipulation of facts by the media are more common than we’d like to think. In this case, “Lean Finely Textured Beef” (LFTB), also known in slang terms as, “Pink Slime”, bore the brunt of numerous media inspired controversy.

Void of clarity in food science, production, safety and regulations, the press essentially led the way to reactive change. Negative ramifications have since begun to emerge in direct result and stand to reason why we are paying higher prices for ground beef today.

Science Sounds Scary

Part of the LFTB process involves heating beef trimmings to soften fat and then spinning them in a centrifuge to separate the fat from the lean meat. The lean meat is then treated with a puff of ammonium hydroxide for food safety purposes to kill bacteria such as, E. coli O157:H7.

Words that begin with prefixes such as “hyd” and end in “ide” (including any other chemical sounding words for that matter) generally make people think they are unsafe. However, the use of this compound in food processing has been consistently studied since the 1970’s and was approved for use in food manufacturing by the USDA and in Title 21 by the FDA.

This bears repeating: The use of ammonium hydroxide is approved by two regulating government agencies for food production use.

Ammonium hydroxide is ammonia combined with water. Ammonia is a compound consisting of nitrogen and hydrogen. Ammonia and ammonium hydroxide are very common compounds both found naturally in our environment – in air, water, soil, plants and animals. Ammonia is also produced in the human body, by our organs, tissues and by the beneficial bacteria living in our intestines. Eating good bacteria has become more commonplace in recent years with the introduction of probiotics to the dairy product markets.

You may also be interested in knowing ammonium hydroxide is used as a direct food additive in baked goods, cheeses, chocolates, caramel, puddings and scads of other foods. However, unlike ground beef, these food products have yet to be subjected to media centric sensationalism.

Monkey See, Monkey Skewed

Last year, ABC’s Food Revolution Chef, Jamie Oliver, campaigned against LFTB by pouring a bottle of ammonia over ground beef on camera and telling viewers that’s what their children were eating in school lunches. Oliver manipulated Pink Slime in a trend du jour fashion which is most ironic as the term had been coined by a USDA microbiologist years prior when he used it to describe its pink tones when unfrozen.

Oliver’s tangent went viral, was heralded in the media and thus ignited consumer outrage. LFTB bashings across social, print and broadcast media seemed irreversible until recently. Counter reports to Oliver’s fact void haberdashery have since been published by the Huffington Post, National Public Radio, New York Times, in opinion blogs and by watch dog groups.

Unfortunately, refuted claims were far too slow in coming as school districts, retailers and foodservice operators had already caved to public pressure and stopped purchasing ground beef made with LFTB in favor of 100% pure ground beef.

How This Fallout Affects All of Us

To date public outcry over Pink Slime has subsided leaving a trail of economic ills behind. Business, industry, employment and pricing relevant to the situation now travel in negative directions.

Beef Products Inc. (BPI) was a large manufacturer of LFTB who used the approved process to bring economically priced lean ground beef to market. However, due to the change of institutional, retail and consumer markets from LFTB blended ground beef to 100% ground beef, BPI was forced to close three of their four plants and lay off over 600 workers.

Consider that circumstance again – 75% of their business output channels were lost and the employees that ran them. What adds insult to BPI’s injury is they were a company widely known for pioneering food safety measures – they made a habit of finding ways to produce safer meat.

AFA Foods, a ground beef processor who provided over 500 million pounds of ground beef annually with over 800 employees, filed for bankruptcy last April, citing “changes in the market” for its treated beef products. Last month, two AFA plants were sold to different companies, Cargill and CTI dismantling the business piece by piece.

Consumer prices for 100% ground beef have since outpaced inflation and hit a record high this month. The beef industry, already seeing its lowest herd numbers since 1955 due to drought, now needs 1.5 million head more to fill the demand gap for ground beef. These effects will likely drive up cattle futures and ultimately the price of beef for all of us.

What is most tragic about the LFTB timeline is the delay in rebuttal coverage. Ultimately, major corporations gave in to misguided public opinion, people lost their jobs, and lean ground beef choices have all but disappeared from the marketplace.

Food manufacturers are often taken to task on the hype used to sell their products. US News says, “A health claim on the label doesn’t necessarily make a food healthy”. To that end, the one thing the food industry does want you to know is this: media claims about the food industry do not necessarily make a food unhealthy.

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From the desk of  John Cecala  Twitter @Buedel Fine Meats  Facebook  Buedel Fan Page

Cited Links:

http://health.usnews.com/health-news/articles/2012/03/30/things-the-food-industry-doesnt-want-you-to-know?page=3

http://www.foodinsight.org/Resources/Detail.aspx?topic=Questions_and_Answers_about_Ammonium_Hydroxide_Use_in_Food_Production

http://www.fsis.usda.gov/Regulations_&_Policies/Regulations_Directives_&_Notices/index.asp

http://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/cdrh/cfdocs/cfCFR/CFRSearch.cfm?fr=184.1139

http://www.webmd.com/digestive-disorders/tc/probiotics-topic-overview

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/rob-lyons/jamie-olivers-pink-slime_b_1240983.html

http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2012/03/09/148298678/is-it-safe-to-eat-pink-slime

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/04/03/the-pink-menace/

http://www.nclnet.org/newsroom/press-releases/640-statement-of-sally-greenberg-executive-director-on-lean-finely-textured-beef

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http://www.beefproducts.com/

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304023504577319512349299958.html

http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/07/13/cargill-beef-idUSL2E8ID04720120713

http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/cti-foods-acquires-afa-foods-inc-king-of-prussia-ground-beef-processing-plant-162366896.html?utm_expid=43414375-18&utm_referrer=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.google.com%2Furl%3Fsa%3Dt%26rct%3Dj%26q%3D%26esrc%3Ds%26source%3Dweb%26

http://au.ibtimes.com/articles/376014/20120822/skyrocketing-ground-beef-prices-hit-record-highs.htm#.UDRz8mZGOSo)

 

 

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