90% reduction of Salmonella in meat – research update

deMello_Headshot_2015Dr. Amilton de Mello, University of Nevada Assistant Professor and Meat Scientist in the College of Agriculture, Biotechnology and Natural Resources (CABNR) has been hard at work since he began his career at UNR under a year ago. Amilton completed his PhD at University of Nebraska, and I worked with Nebraska Extension. However, we didn’t meet until we both got to Nevada, so you can imagine that in addition to educational, programming, and research similarities we have the Huskers in common. It will be fun to see what future projects and collaboration we will work on.

Dr. de Mello and his graduate student recently presented some research at the annual American Meat Science Association (AMSA) Reciprocal Meat Conference (RMC) in Texas. I think they are doing great work that will of value to many, and will help ensure that in the U.S. we continue to have one of the safest food supplies in the world.

Salmonella is one of the most common causes of food illness in the U.S. The bacteria can cause fever, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal cramping. Unfortunately, in young children and the elderly, as well as those with weak immune systems (immunocompromised), it can be fatal. Annually, the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports Salmonella is estimated to cause one million food illnesses, 19,000 hospitalizations, and 380 deaths in the U.S.

In the lab, the salmonella bacteria was inoculated on the refrigerated meat and poultry trim, the treatment bacteriophages (Myoviridae bacteriophages) were then applied, and the meat was ground. Bacteriophages are viruses which are commonly found in the environment, but they ONLY are harmful to specific  bacterial cells and are HARMLESS to humans, animals, and plants. The bacteriophages work by invading the cells of the bacteria and destroy them.

De Mellos says, “we were able to reduce salmonella by as much as 90% in ground poultry, ground pork, and ground beef. We’re excited to be able to show such good results, and hope this can be adopted by the meat industry to increase food safety.”

Isn’t new research great?! If you want to follow what Amilton is working on for Nevada meat producers check our his Facebook page Horizons – Nevada’s Meat Newsletter. Full and original article can be found at UNR’s NEVADAToday.

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Robot Butchers? Technology coming to your table

Recently, an article came across my desk from one of my meat industry news updates about JBS meat packing looking into using robots to process swine and lamb carcasses initially, with beef to eventually follow. In college I spent a lot of time in packing plants collecting beef carcass data, meat, and other tissues needed for samples. While I think it can be done, I think there may be some challenges (i.e. animal welfare, food safety, lack of human element) that will have to be overcome before we are ready to turn over meat processing to robots.

Below is a summation of articles from Harvest Media News and NPR on meat cutting robots. What are your thoughts about this high tech and revolutionary idea? 

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Beef carcasses. Source: Andy Cross/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Slaughterhouses and meatpacking plants throughout the country employ about a quarter of a million persons.  Some of those workers that prepare the beef, pork, and chicken that ends up on dinner tables could eventually be replaced by robots. The world’s largest meatpacking company (JBS, the Brazil-based protein powerhouse) is looking at ways to automate the art of butchery.

Late last fall, JBS bought a controlling share of Scott Technology, a New Zealand-based robotics firm. While many manufacturers have gone to automated machines to process and package everything from food to furniture, the beef industry has held onto its workers. It takes thousands of workers to run a modern beef plant. In fact, U.S. meatpacking plants are expected to add jobs in the next decade, as the appetite for pork, chicken, and beef grows in the developing world.

Disassembly is the name of the game on the fabrication floor at the JBS beef processing plant in Greeley, Colorado. Workers hold a knife in one hand, and their sharpening steel is close to their side. Line workers are dressed in chainmail, a protective mesh lining under white jackets (frocks/smocks) and aprons. Deft cuts cleave bone and meat, turning a whole cow into neat and trim cuts like tenderloins, steaks, and roasts.

“There’s right now 850 people out in this building alone,” says plant manager Bill Danley as he weaves through the maze of conveyor belts, stainless steel slides, and bone bins. The plant is a far cry from your grandfather’s butcher shop, where a single person would need to know how to turn an entire animal into cuts of meat. Large beef companies like JBS, Cargill, and Tyson have turned each minute step of the process into a job. Danley lists some of the titles: chuck boner, tender puller, back splitter, knuckle dropper, and tail ripper. “There’s a lot of jobs out here that prep for the other person,” Danley says.

Each year JBS pays out more than $100 million in paychecks to its 3,000 employees. It’s a huge chunk of the company’s operating costs. That could begin to change with JBS’ new venture into the world of robotics. “This is a very innovative and exciting company that we invested in,” JBS spokesman Cameron Bruett says of the company’s investment in Scott Technology. “And we’re excited to see what they’ll come up with.”

JBS is looking at how robots could fit into its lamb and pork plants first, Bruett says. Sheep and pigs tend to be more uniform than beef cattle. “Now when it comes to beef packing, beef processing, the fabrication of the animal, it’s very difficult to automate beef processing,” Bruett says. The various breeds of cattle brought into the plant also complicate the future of robots in meatpacking. Some days the plant breaks down the long, lanky bodies of Holsteins. Other days they’re working on sturdy, thickset Angus and Hereford. Robots would need the ability to adjust to the spectrum of cattle breeds.

The meatpacking robots of today use vision technology to slice and dice, but the key to butchery is touch, not sight. JBS’s beef division president, Bill Rupp, says right now, robots just can’t feel how deep a bone is, or expertly remove a filet mignon. “When you get into that detailed, skilled cutting, robots aren’t there yet. Someday, I’m sure they will be,” Rupp says. “It can’t do the fine cutting that you see on the fab floor, that’s one of the big challenges right now.” Robotic technology doesn’t have the fine motor skills that come easily to humans and there isn’t room for error. Some of the cuts being boxed up bring upward of $14 per pound, Rupp explains, so the key is being able to leave it on the meat and not on the bone. “I mean that’s how our business works.”

The technology isn’t quite ready for a massive roll out, but could the economics of widespread robotic use in the beef industry ever work? Not any time soon, says Don Stull, an anthropologist who spent 30 years studying the cultures of meatpacking towns at the University of Kansas. “Workers are really cheaper than machines,” Stull says. “Machines have to be maintained. They have to be taken good care of. And that’s not really true of workers. As long as there is a steady supply, workers are relatively inexpensive.” There’s a stream of immigrants and refugees, most from Somalia, Rwanda, El Salvador, and Guatemala, ready to put on the chainmail and pick up the knife, Stull says. In large, modern plants, companies pay less because the skill needed to work on the fabrication floor is so low. Some jobs take less than a week to fully master. Turnover in the industry is high, Stull points out, because of the physical demands. Slicing meat all day can lead to repetitive injuries. JBS employs an athletic trainer to keep employees limber and fit. Stull says it’s still common for workers to transfer jobs at the same plant to make better money or to just avoid falling apart. “After you do the same thing thousands of times a day, six days a week … your body wears down,” Stull says.

While the industry says it has dramatically improved on worker safety over the years, meatpacking jobs consistently rank among the most hazardous in the country. Workers stand along conveyor belts on raised platforms, adjustable based on each person’s height. Those platforms were a big step in improving ergonomic conditions for workers, Danley says. Increased automation could ease some of those injuries.

Meat processing makes up a huge portion of Great Plains communities’ rural economies, what happens inside meat processing plants affects not only the companies involved, but the very culture of rural America.

Until technology catches up in both skill and costs, meatpacking companies will continue hiring workers to turn cattle, chickens, and hogs into cuts of meat.

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Source: Stephanie Paige Ogburn/KUNC

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Processed Meats and Cancer: Fearmongering or True Concern?

Bacon, the candy of the meat world, and other processed meats (i.e. ham, hotdog, sausage, salami, chorizo, deli meats, corned beef, jerky, canned meat) were recently categorized as Group 1 Carcinogens (carcinogenic to humans) by the World Health Organization’s (WHO) International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), because of a causal link with bowel cancer. Other Group 1 Carcinogens include arsenic, tobacco, sunlight, alcohol, asbestos, and leather and wood dust. Red meat is listed as a Group 2A (probably carcinogenic to humans), along with grilled food and the profession of a hairdresser. The entire list of carcinogens can be found here.

The WHO defines “processed” as meat that has been transformed through salting, curing, fermentation, smoking, or other processes to enhance flavor or improve preservation. Most processed meats contain pork or beef, but processed meats may also contain other red meats, poultry, offal, or meat by-products such as blood (I don’t know about you, but these are common methods I use to prepare food at my home…). Additionally, the North American Meat Institute (NAMI) has an excellent article on Processed Meats: Convenience, Nutrition, Taste. 

Dr. Janeal Yancey with Mom at the Meat Counter says this about the benefits of processed meats in her post The sky is not falling on hotdogs and bacon:

Processed meats are important. The ingredients and processes used to make hotdogs and bacon and sausage are about more than creating tasty treats to eat at tailgates. Processed meats help us to use meat more efficiently, waste less food and feed more people.

Processed meats allow us to use the whole animal. There are lots of cuts on the animal that wouldn’t taste very good if we just tried to cook them like fresh meat. They may be too tough, too small, or too fatty. Meat processors grind them up and mix them all together to make sausages and hotdogs.

Processed meats allow us to store meat for longer times. Ingredients like salt, sugar, and nitrites help fend off bacteria that cause it to go bad. They also keep it from becoming rancid. Think about how long hotdogs and ham last in the fridge in comparison to fresh steaks and burgers.

Processed meats are a good source of inexpensive protein. Foods like hotdogs and sausages are inexpensive, but they provide protein. People need that protein, especially kids. Protein helps you feel fuller, longer after a meal. It also helps build and repair muscles as kids grow. Research has shown that kids fed protein perform better in school. In some poor families, processed meats are the only way they can afford to feed their kids protein.

Processed meats help prevent food-borne illness. Ingredients like salt and lactates help keep dangerous bacteria, like Listeria, from growing, and nitrites are added to prevent the growth of Clostridium botulinum, the bacteria that causes Botulism.

It is important to note in an interview with MeatingPlace.com, IARC indicates:

Processed meat has been classified in the same category as causes of cancer such as tobacco smoking and asbestos (IARC Group 1, carcinogenic to humans), but this does NOT mean that they are all equally dangerous. The IARC classifications describe the strength of the scientific evidence about an agent being a cause of cancer, rather than assessing the level of risk.

Meat consists of multiple components, such as heme iron. Meat can also contain chemicals that form during meat processing or cooking. For instance, carcinogenic chemicals that form during meat processing include N-nitroso compounds and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Cooking of red meat or processed meat also produces heterocyclic aromatic amines as well as other chemicals including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which are also found in other foods and in air pollution. Some of these chemicals are known or suspected carcinogens, but despite this knowledge it is not yet fully understood how cancer risk is increased by red meat or processed meat.

The IARC experts indicated that each 50 gram (1.8 ounce) serving (about 1 hotdog or 3 strips of bacon) of processed meat eaten daily increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 18%. The Guardian reported:

Dr Elizabeth Lund – an independent consultant in nutritional and gastrointestinal health, and a former research leader at the Institute of Food Research, who acknowledges she did some work for the meat industry in 2010 – said red meat was linked to about three extra cases of bowel cancer per 100,000 adults in developed countries. “A much bigger risk factor is obesity and lack of exercise,” she said. “Overall, I feel that eating meat once a day combined with plenty of fruit, vegetables and cereal fiber, plus exercise and weight control, will allow for a low risk of colorectal cancer and a more balanced diet.”

Dr. Betsy Booren, NAMI (North American Meat Institute) said, “Followers of the Mediterranean diet eat double the recommended amount of processed meats. People in countries where the Mediterranean diet is followed, like Spain, Italy and France, have some of the longest lifespans in the world and excellent health.”

Dr. Jude Capper with Bovidiva says it is nearly impossible to assess the impact of meat consumption in isolation, in her post Bringing home the bacon – I’m a cancer survivor with meat on the menu:

Let’s examine the real risk.  The average person’s risk of developing colorectal cancer is approximately 5%. If the WHO data suggesting an 18% increase in risk is correct, a daily 50 g serving of processed meat increases that risk to 5.9 % (an increase slightly less than 1 people per 100), of which between 0.65 – 5.4 people will survive for 5 years or more (depending on cancer stage at diagnosis). Despite the increase in meat consumption over the past century (and therefore assumed increase in processed meat consumption due to changes in dining habits and food availability), the death rate from colorectal cancer has dropped over the past 20 years. Moreover, in media articles discussing the WHO announcement, there is no mention of mitigating factors such as fruit and vegetable consumption. What happens if I eat 50 g of bacon within a huge salad with a side of oat bread, a meal high in dietary fiber, which is cited as having a protective effect against colorectal cancer? Or if I eat bacon after running five miles, given the role of exercise in preventing cancer? As with so many other health risks, it’s almost impossible to assess the impact of meat consumption in isolation.

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association President, Phillip Ellis, had this to say about the claims:

Let me be clear, this group did not conduct new research during their meeting, they simply reviewed existing evidence, including six studies submitted by the beef checkoff. That evidence had already been reviewed and weighed by the medical and scientific community. The science reviewed by IARC simply does not support their decision.

We know that there isn’t clear evidence to support IARC’s decision because the beef checkoff has commissioned independent studies on the topic for a decade. In fact, countless studies have been conducted by cancer and medical experts and they have all determined the same thing: No one food can cause or cure cancer. But that hasn’t prevented IARC from deciding otherwise. This conclusion isn’t mine alone and you can evaluate the information for yourself. We’ve posted the studies reviewed by IARC and other information about the committee’s findings on the website: factsaboutbeef.com. At NCBA, our team of experts has also been working with our state partners and other industry organizations to ensure consumers understand what the science really shows.

Since IARC began meeting in 1979, these experts have reviewed more than 900 compounds, products and factors for possible correlation with cancer. To date, only one product (caprolactam, which is a chemical primarily used to create synthetic fibers like nylon) has been granted a rating of 4, which indicates it is “probably not carcinogenic to humans.” Most other factors or products that have been examined by the body, including glyphosate, aloe vera, nightshift work and sunlight have fallen into three categories: 2B “possibly carcinogenic to humans,” 2A “probably carcinogenic to humans,” or 1 “carcinogenic to humans.”

Overwhelmingly, the reaction by most people has been “oh well”, no one is quite ready to give up bacon yet. The NAMI gathered some feedback and quotes from people around the world on the announcement. To read those comments go here.

Charred (blackened or burnt) meat can contribute to carcinogenic effects. Facts About Beef recommends that when cooking meat it is very important to monitor heat level and doneness temperatures of meat, poultry, and fish. Additionally, making lean beef part of your diet can provide the nutritious health benefits and healthy fat, which can help reduce the risk of cancer! Read more at Facts About Beef.

I would venture to guess there are very few people on this planet that do not know someone affected by cancer. It is a serious and complicated disease – no one really knows what causes it or how to prevent it. As the commercials indicate, one bite of kale or one sit up are not enough to keep us healthy and disease free forever. Everything, literally everything, could potentially give us cancer — stress, lack of sleep, age, our gender, genetics, smoking, our weight, activity level, career, family, lifestyle hormones, phones, alcohol, food, etc. It is virtually impossible to identify one food that can cause or prevent cancer, thus making discussions on red meat being a possible carcinogen a challenge for experts to reach consensus.

To date, scientists and health professionals agree that maintaining a healthy diet, an active lifestyle, and being a non-smoker can reduce the risk of cancer. While processed meats have been added to the list of carcinogenic items, the science is divided on these claims. Until we know why or how cancer and processed meats are linked, moderation seems like a very reasonable suggestion.

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Dr. Lindsay can also be found on:

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8 Minutes: How antibiotics are used on the farm

Dr. Brad Jones, a veterinarian with the University of Nebraska and Great Plains Veterinary Educational Center talks about the decision-making process regarding antibiotic use in cattle and pigs, including the diagnosis of illnesses, treatment and antibiotic use considerations, and how animals are tracked from antibiotic administration to harvest.

This video by North American Meat Institute (NAMI) is part of the “Glass Walls” series which are designed to offer a behind the scenes tours of meat harvest facilities, how meat products are made, and more. You can watch more of the Glass Walls videos here.

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Dr. Lindsay can also be found on:

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Meat, poultry, and eggs: What does the USDA test for? Fun Fact Friday

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) just released the annual U.S. National Residue Program for Meat, Poultry, and Egg Products, a.k.a. the “Blue Book” which summarizes the process that the Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) will use to sample meat, poultry, and egg products in 2015 for chemical contaminants of public health concern (i.e. pesticides, hormones, heavy metals, antibiotics, etc.). The chemical compounds tested for include approved and unapproved veterinary drugs, pesticides, and environmental compounds.

Not only is testing done on meat and eggs raised/grown in the U.S., but also on imported goods. However, the testing is different and somewhat limited on imported products (page 9 for more details).

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Dr. Lindsay can also be found on:

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Chipotle: There Is NO Pork Shortage!

I am reblogging this from Wanda at Minnesota Farm Living. Wanda is a pig farmer, and has tremendous experience and expertise when it comes to pigs and the pork industry – so this article is coming from someone who raises our food.

Read this post and the comments to better understand why a large percentage of pigs are raised in barns – then YOU decide if you think there is a problem…

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Chipotle has declared a pork shortage because their supplier was not compliant with pig housing requirements. Find out why housing pigs indoors is humane.

via Chipotle: There Is NO Pork Shortage!.

What I Wish People Knew About Pig Farming

This summer at the AgChat Conference I had a chance to meet Wanda, she is a pig farmer and blogs at Minnesota Farm Living. Take a moment to read more about pig farming, and how perceptions and preferences of pig farming may be different than the realities.

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I wish people could experience the things pig farmer s experience, see the things pig farmers see and hear the things pig farmers hear.

via What I Wish People Knew About Pig Farming.

Sweet and Sour Pork Chops

Earlier in the week I shared with you how to save money at the meat counter by buying in bulk and freezing in individual portions sizes. I recently defrosted a couple of packages of pork chops and made Sweet and Sour Pork Chops – and there was plenty for leftovers the next day! Recipe at bottom.

Mustard and brwn sugar
Brown sugar and mustard.
Sweet and sour
Mix together until you get a sauce.
S&SPork
Place pork chops in a baking dish and cover with the brown sugar and mustard (do not add water).
S&SPorkChops
Bake on 350 degrees F until done – YUM!

Sweet and Sour Pork Chops

Ingredients:

– mustard

– brown sugar

– pork chops

1. Add brown sugar and mustard to a bowl, mix together until well blended. You can make them sweeter or more sour by adjusting the amount of either ingredient.

2. Place pork chops in a single layer in a baking dish and cover with the brown sugar/mustard sauce. Do not add any additional water to the pan.

3. Bake at 350 degrees F until done (check them at about 25 minutes). Use a meat thermometer to test their doneness. Remember pork chops only need to be cooked to 145 degrees F!

4. Drizzle some sauce (aka delicious goodness) over your chops when served.

5. Serve with your favorite sides – enjoy!

Bacon makes everything better! Fun Fact Friday

One of the gifts. I received for Christmas was a 2014 bacon calendar! I know pretty awesome, but it gets better. This calendar comes with recipes, fun facts, photos, and more! So today I bring you some bacon fun facts in celebration of this awesome calendar!

Starting the day with a high protein, high fat breakfast such as bacon and eggs improves metabolism and further facilitates circulation and digestion!

70% of all bacon in the U.S. is eaten at breakfast; and 59% of bacon is consumed on weekdays!

Bacon is addictive! It contains 6 types of umami, umami produces an addictive neurochemical response.

Women who are pregnant should eat bacon! Bacon contains choline which helps in fetal brain development.

Three slices of cooked bacon contains about 100 calories! And almost half of the fat in bacon is “good fat” that can help lower cholesterol (all in moderation).

The B.L.T. name came from a waitress who used shorthand to speed up orders!

I hope you know feel like a bacon whiz, I think I might go try out a new bacon recipe…or three!

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