I live by the mantra, “when in doubt, throw it out”. I seldom drink milk beyond its best by date – even though that is generally totally acceptable. I follow the all of the rules of food safety. And if you’ve been following along, you know that I frequently refer to myself as a food safety enthusiast. I do this all in the name of keeping my family, and myself, from suffering the consequences of a completely preventable affliction – foodborne illness.
My food safety craze does not just apply to the mom side of me. It also applies to the raiser of beef side of me, as well. And it’s not just my family’s safety that I am concerned about. Nope. I care about the safety of the beef we raise, and more importantly, the safety of the folks who consume it. If that little tidbit came as a surprise to you, hold on to your hats because I am about to dispense five more surprising things you may not know about beef safety…
Beef safety is priority number one of the entire beef community, not just me.
From the pasture to packer and grocer to restaurateur, the main goal of the beef community is to offer consumers beef that is just as safe as it is nutritious. And, beef is really nutritious. To help achieve this goal, representatives from each segment of the beef community – farmers and ranchers, packers, processors, distributors, grocers, restaurateurs, and scholars – make up what is called the Beef Industry Food Safety Council (BIFSCo).
BIFSCo works to develop “science-based strategies to solve the problem of E. coli O157:H7 and other food borne pathogens in beef”. If you’ll notice I said “works”. That is because these safety strategies are not a once and done deal. BIFSCo holds a Beef Industry Safety Summit each year to reassess said strategies in an effort to constantly improve and advance the goal of providing the safest possible beef supply.
It starts in the pasture.
Starting in the pasture and beyond, we (the farmers and ranchers who raise beef) follow basic animal husbandry principles. Basic might give the feel of unimportance, but that basic husbandry and care of our cattle – it is the crucial first step in beef safety.
Bacteria are naturally occurring in our environment. Some are okay, even good for us. Others not-so-much. Take foodborne illness causing E. coli O157:H7 and Salmonella for example. These two bugs like to take up residence in the guts of cattle. And while they can wreak some serious havoc on the human digestive tract, they usually pose no threat to bovine health.
However, just because in most cases cattle aren’t bothered by these bacteria does not mean they are welcome. This is where the basic animal husbandry comes in. Providing cattle a clean, dry place to reside, quality feed, and a never-ending supply of fresh water goes a long way in the fight against foodborne illness. This basic care greatly reduces the number of cattle unknowingly harboring those human gut ravaging little terrorists.
Producers put their money where their mouths are.
In their dedication to offering up safe beef, farmers and ranchers invest $1.5 million annually to beef safety research. This producer funded research generates the latest and greatest in beef safety practices and technologies. These practices and technologies are then implemented on a daily basis throughout the beef community to enhance the safety of beef.
Speaking of implementing technologies, more than $550 million is devoted annually (yes, that is a per year figure) to the implementation of interventions and microbial testing. And that testing is above and beyond what the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service requires.
Product recalls are a good thing.
Whenever there is a product recall, as rare an occurrence as that is, today’s news media has this uncanny knack for putting a negative spin on it. But the truth is product recalls are a good thing. They mean the system is working.
In recent years, cases of E. coli-related illness have been reduced to one per 100,000 people. That improvement is due to the multi-step, pasture-to-plate approach to beef safety, including the enhanced testing and product recalls. The finite testing is in place to catch the rare surviving pathogen and trigger the recalls that keep those foodborne illness causing creeps off of our tables.
The label isn’t just for show.
I have said it before and I’ll say it again, beef safety has to be a collaborative effort – food safety teamwork from pasture to plate. The truth of the matter is that we consumers can do a lot to save ourselves and our families the gut ache of foodborne illness by simply following the label instructions that come with every package of beef we buy.
These label instructions for safe handling of beef bare an eerie resemblance to the short list that I include with my recipe posts. They aren’t fancy, but they are important. And they are by far and away the best, most effective way we can protect our families from falling victim to foodborne illness.
If you haven’t guessed it by now, I take food safety seriously. Contracting a foodborne illness and all that comes with it just does not in any way appeal to me. So I, for one, am beyond thankful that the efforts of the folks behind the scenes that take it as seriously, if not more seriously, than I do.
What about you? Are you a food safety enthusiast like me? Did you know about these five things already, or were you surprised?