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The Latest in Meat Safety: Another Form of Zapping?

Bacterial contamination of meat is an ongoing problem and everyone wishes for an easy fix–one that does not require meat producers and packers to prevent contamination.

Irradiation works, but raises feasibility and other concerns.

How about electrocution?

Food Production Daily reports that hitting meat with electrical current reduces toxic E. coli O157:H7 on meat surfaces by 2 log units.

The research report says researchers inoculated meat with the bacteria and then applied electrical current.  But by inoculation they must mean just on the surface, because they only counted surface bacteria.

Surface bacteria, alas, are not the problem.  Searing meat effectively kills surface bacteria.   Bacteria in the interior (of hamburger, for example) survive unless the meat is well cooked.

And 2 log units is unlikely to be good enough for bacteria that cause harm at low doses, as this kind does.  The FDA requires a 5 log reduction for fresh juices, for example.

I wish researchers would apply their talents to figuring out how to keep toxic bacteria from getting into and onto animals in the first place.  Then we wouldn’t have to worry about designing techno-fixes to deal with contaminated meat.

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“The Latest in Meat Safety: Another Form of Zapping?” first appeared on Marion Nestle’s Food Politics blog Jan. 16, 2012. Reposted with permission.

© Food Safety News
  • http://www.uoguelph.ca/foodscience/content/dr-keith-warriner-research-projects kwarriner

    Attempting to prevent pathogens getting into foods is a bit like a goalkeeper trying to stop balls going into the net when faced with 10 strikers at a time. Interventions will always be the key even though people still believe testing has merit. The cynical tone of the opinion piece seems very common these days. Scientists come up with possible solutions and certain fractions of the food safety area do nothing but find faults. Maybe this is the real reason why we have such high levels of foodborne illness.

  • http://www.johnmunsell.com jmunsell

    Marion, the milk industry introduced Pasterization in spite of great opposition, and we all consider pasteurization acceptable now. In milk’s case, bacteria was not successfully kept out of the raw milk, so the pasteurization intervention has become a superlative complement. Although USDA has beguiled us into thinking that raw meat & poultry must be perfectly safe, we know different, and our recurring recalls & ongoing outbreaks attest to the fact that raw meat carries a ubiquitous risk. If electronic zapping of carcasses is truly beneficial, then the presence of pathogens on trimmings destined for burger will be safer. Electronic zapping and low dose/low penetration electronic treatment of carcasses could constitute valuable partners in our multiple hurdle pathogen intervention systems.
    In spite of millions already spent by the industry to develop & implement new interventions, bugs are still slipping through the cracks (esp on raw meat & poultry)and consumers are being sickened, some die. For consumers’ sake, we simply must incorporate additional treatments into our portfolio of interventions.
    John Munsell

  • http://www.trackmycrop.wordpress.com Pamela Sweeten

    The almond industy has implemented pasturization of all almonds that go for “raw” consumption.

  • http://www.uoguelph.ca/foodscience/content/dr-keith-warriner-research-projects Keith Warriner

    Attempting to prevent pathogens getting into foods is a bit like a goalkeeper trying to stop balls going into the net when faced with 10 strikers at a time. Interventions will always be the key even though people still believe testing has merit. The cynical tone of the opinion piece seems very common these days. Scientists come up with possible solutions and certain fractions of the food safety area do nothing but find faults. Maybe this is the real reason why we have such high levels of foodborne illness.

  • http://burningbird.net Shelley

    Actually, I’m rather on the side of “preventing contamination”, myself–even if this opens me up to charges of naïveté.
    Pasteurization is a proven technique that has demonstrated its effectiveness. The technique described here does not sound effective if it only impacts on surface bacteria.

  • http://www.johnmunsell.com John Munsell

    Marion, the milk industry introduced Pasterization in spite of great opposition, and we all consider pasteurization acceptable now. In milk’s case, bacteria was not successfully kept out of the raw milk, so the pasteurization intervention has become a superlative complement. Although USDA has beguiled us into thinking that raw meat & poultry must be perfectly safe, we know different, and our recurring recalls & ongoing outbreaks attest to the fact that raw meat carries a ubiquitous risk. If electronic zapping of carcasses is truly beneficial, then the presence of pathogens on trimmings destined for burger will be safer. Electronic zapping and low dose/low penetration electronic treatment of carcasses could constitute valuable partners in our multiple hurdle pathogen intervention systems.
    In spite of millions already spent by the industry to develop & implement new interventions, bugs are still slipping through the cracks (esp on raw meat & poultry)and consumers are being sickened, some die. For consumers’ sake, we simply must incorporate additional treatments into our portfolio of interventions.
    John Munsell

  • Mary

    So you are confident that there are solutions to prevent all downstream contamination of foods? Too bad the sprouts and the cantaloupe folks weren’t on board with your knowledge.
    I really don’t understand your dismissal of additional safety strategies. Everyone wants improved upstream methods too. But your continual opposition to additional tools just bewilders me.

  • Michael Bulger

    I think opposing and setting priorities are separate concepts. This technology does not seem overwhelmingly effective and does not address the most common vectors of foodborne pathogens. That being said, Mr. Munsell makes a good point about trimmings as a source point. Most would agree that electrocuting beef is not going have the same impact on foodborne illnesses as pasteurization. Can it be useful? If so, to what extent?
    Safety concerns roll downhill and branch out as products and workers take part in food processing systems. The best way to ensure that food products are unadulterated is to not adulterate them in the first place. It would be a mistake not to work upstream in order to affect a more wide-reaching improvement.