Most meat today comes from animals that are raised on feedlots, with all the attendant environmental problems of the spread of disease from animal to animal and disposal of large quantities of waste. Meat is exposed to a large variety and quantity of microorganisms from people, surfaces, and equipment, throughout processing. The health of the animals can be compromised. The stockyards, slaughterhouses, meat-processing plants, retail cutting operations, storage, and display areas are subject to substantial levels of contamination. There are large quantities of fecal and urine waste to be removed, which are serious fly and rodent attractants. Offal, blood, and other wastes are present in large quantities. Odors are intense. During the slaughtering process, microorganisms can be added frequently or continuously by equipment, appurtenances, the physical structure, people, and improper cleaning techniques. Cutting instruments and food contact surfaces are of great significance and frequently are not cleaned and sanitized in an appropriate manner or in a timely fashion. The presence of abscesses in the carcasses is always a problem and many meat packing plants have too few federal meat inspectors to ensure a production line is shut down when an abscess is encountered.
Bench trim (the fat and meat trimmed from roasts and steaks), which is mixed throughout the ground beef, appears to be a special problem helping cause the spread of microorganisms. There are the potentially severe problems of moving the slaughtered meat rapidly into appropriate refrigeration and freezing units that maintain safe temperatures determined by finely calibrated instrumentation. Recall programs fail when there is slow determination of the presence of contaminated products and they are not taken off of the shelves of the retailers rapidly enough. Meats contain Brucella, Salmonella, Streptococcus, Mycobacterium, Pseudomonas, Staphylococcus, E. coli, etc. Pork may contain Trichinella spiralis. Chemical contamination can occur from cleaning and sanitizing materials, the presence of pesticides, indiscriminate spraying of the premises, introduction of allergens from added materials, etc.
Language barriers may lead to misinterpretations of information in all of the food trades and therefore may complicate the necessary training that should be given to all employees in the prevention of the spread of disease and contamination by chemicals during cleaning, storage, and disposal processes.
Ready-to-eat products which are consumed without further processing by heating are used in very large quantities. These food products include deli-style meats, snack foods, buffet foods, and various platters and spreads that are prepared for mass feeding programs. These are very frequently improperly refrigerated, handled improperly, and easily contaminated.
Best Practices in Processing of Meat and Meat Products
Follow the Best Practices in Processing of Fish and Shellfish for all meats and meat products.
• Establish a food safety plan and management program using the HACCP system in a systematic, comprehensive, and thorough manner for each product.
• All critical control points must be identified and procedures established and followed in a very strict manner.
• Determine the accuracy of thermometers for refrigerators, freezers, and heat processors and frequently check the time and temperatures in the various parts of the process.
• Consider potential hazards of environmental contaminants such as agricultural chemicals that may have run off into the water as well as runoff from manure piles or other sewage systems.
• Determine the quality of the air which will be going through the slaughter plant and if necessary, use appropriate filters and air treatment procedures before use within the plant.
• Control air movement throughout the slaughter plant with the air flowing from clean areas always to dirty areas and not vice versa.
• Separate physically all dirty areas from clean areas and always have the flow of people and materials as well as products go from clean to dirty.
• Ensure the integrity of the structure and make sure there are no leaks from roofs or other areas into the clean areas and processing areas especially.
• Use proper drains in all processing areas, and clean and maintain them on a regular basis.
• The mid-shift should perform complete cleanup of all areas surfaces and equipment as well as coolers while preventing splashing and aerosols from getting into the air and contaminating exposed products.
• All reused water including re-circulated warm water and that used in thermal pasteurization units must meet the standards of potable water.
• If the machinery breaks down, all products must still be maintained at appropriate temperatures and for appropriate time periods.
• Holding pens and troughs must be kept as clean as possible.
• Reduce potential pathogens on hides before the de-hiding process by washing the animals down thoroughly while reducing airborne dust, animal waste, and dirt.
• Remove the hides in as clean a manner as possible to reduce potential problems later in the process.
• Use sanitized knives with color-coded handles, which are constantly rotated, for the slaughter of the animal and do not reuse on another animal without proper cleaning and sanitizing in water at a temperature of at least 180°F.
• Eviscerate the animal with sanitized equipment in as clean a manner as possible to keep from contaminating the carcass.
• Wash the carcass thoroughly with potable water and chill rapidly within 1 hour of the bleed out.
• Frequently during the day determine, record, and alter if necessary the time and temperature controls for all critical control points from the slaughtering process through the finished products being sent out for retail sales.
• Evaluate carefully all raw materials coming into the meat processing plants including checking the physical condition of the meats, potential breakdown in refrigeration temperatures, and visible contamination, and reject them before they enter the food processing chain.
• On a daily or more frequent basis check all sources of potable water, cleanliness, and use of properly sanitized tools and equipment, and cleanliness of all facilities from the unloading bay to the storage rooms to the preparation areas to the final product production including all forms of heat treatment and when necessary cold storage.
• At a change of product labeling and more frequently if necessary, clean and sanitize the labeling machine since it may become a major source of cross-contamination or introduction of substances that can cause allergic responses.