Calling all innovators: the meat industry needs you
By Sara Zborovski
Following the latest beef recall, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) announced that it plans to revamp how companies analyze data in an attempt to improve the Canadian food safety system.
A recent Toronto Star article reports there were 40 inspectors — 20 per shift — and six veterinarians overseeing the fast-moving production line at the slaughterhouse, but the company was in charge of taking a second look at what its tests for bacteria were showing.
According to Dr. Richard Arsenault, director of the meat programs division at the CFIA, the carcasses passed tests for cleanliness and disease, they were treated with a processing aid to kill any invisible E. coli O157: H7 and then pasteurized with steam to get rid of any that was missed, the Star reports.
Any beef that still tested positive for E. coli O157: H7 after that point did not leave the plant, the report says, but the problem was that no one was taking a close enough look at the products that tested negative immediately before and immediately afterwards, or taking a step back to figure out why those positive results were coming.
As a result, products that did have traces of the bacteria — despite having produced negative results — made their way out of the plant, only to be caught during routine testing by the CFIA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture on Sept. 4, the Star reports.
This points to the need for better, more innovative ways to test our food and analyze those test results. It isn’t enough for companies to do the testing, they also have to present the data in a way that paints the real picture of what’s going on.
I met with a gentleman recently who has a long history working with Canadian meat processors and we had a great chat about the state of the industry, where it’s going and where improvements are needed. One thing he said really stuck with me: innovation is desperately needed, particularly around traceability of meat (particularly as animals are increasingly being shipped to different places in smaller and smaller pieces – offals anyone?) and around the analysis of samples.
I don’t know about you, but I see a blue ocean here: super smart Canadians listen up! Someone create a system that better analyzes testing data and can properly trace meat as it is more widely distributed. And when you want to inquire about a patent for your brilliant invention, give me a call!
In another recent article, this one in the Globe and Mail, there’s talk about a vaccine for cattle that would reduce the risk of E. coli to consumers that has been developed by a Canadian company, Bioniche Life Sciences Inc. Read Globe and Mail
Bioniche has a food safety division, which, according to its website, “is responsible for researching, developing, manufacturing, and marketing veterinary biopharmaceutical products to address diseases in livestock which may have an effect on human health.” Now that’s what I’m talking about – Bravo!
Bioniche is trying to get the federal government to vaccinate all Canadian cattle (to the tune of approximately $50-million yearly). The government is balking at the price tag because (according to the government) key industry players aren’t convinced the science supports the success of the vaccine, and because of logistical concerns. Some say that money would be better spent educating Canadians on how to properly handle and cook meat.
So where does this leave us? It looks like there may be something to Bioniche’s vaccine, but that further study (including its effects on humans) is needed.
Where would you prefer the government invest – in working with Bioniche to demonstrate the safety and efficacy of the vaccine (and making improvements if needed), or in educating Canadians on proper meat protocol?
For what it’s worth, my money’s with the vaccine.
The Alberta beef packer at the centre of the recall is now taking full responsibility for the tainted product, but questions remain over why Canadian officials let the company’s plant operate for two weeks after the U.S. deemed the meat unfit to cross the border, the Globe and Mail reports. Read Globe and Mail
XL Foods issued a statement on Thursday acknowledging its food-safety practices were “not enough” and said it would work with the CFIA to strengthen them, the Globe reports.
This only reconfirms my point: there is a need for a better system, and it’s needed now.
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