about foodborne pathogens when it
comes to meat safety because of the
severity of infections caused by pathogenic bacteria and the media coverage
of such cases. For example, more than
20 years ago, an E. coli outbreak caused
by undercooked hamburgers served at Jack
in the Box led to 171
four deaths (
primarily children) and so
is still remembered
vividly. The meat industry is not immune
to the hazard of food
Second, the sheer
size of the recall was
staggering and significant. Over the years,
companies have expanded product
distribution, which has increased the
number of multi-state recalls. Companies have also been able to manufacture
food more efficiently because of new
equipment and automation, enabling
them to generate product at a rapid
rate. The size of the recall was due to
the fact that the underlying cause was
an ingredient supplier rather than a
company that produced a final product.
This means that the recall affected not
just one company but several. As meat
companies expand their businesses to
include more further-processed foods
with myriad ingredients rather than
solely the raw meat cuts sold in the
past, there is increased reliance on the
trustworthiness of suppliers for product
safety as well as quality.
So what can the meat industry do to
reduce these kinds of expensive recalls?
The easiest option is to keep track of
labels and update them as needed. In
several cases, recalls have been caused
by incorrect, obsolete labels being affixed to the product after a change in
formulation, or by misprinted labels.
Having personnel check the labels
before they are loaded into the labeling
machine as well as matching outgoing
product against the current ingredient
formulation will mitigate this. It is also
important to have a good relationship
with your approved supplier. If commu-
nication occurs regularly with the sup-
plier, it is more likely they will inform
the processor of changes in formulation
in a timely manner.
This may also include
and occasional visits
to the supplier plant.
In short, food allergens are a major safety
concern for a segment
of the population, yet
it is not always possible to completely
avoid including any of
the eight major food
allergens in a product.
The key is declaring
their presence clearly on the product
label. In the short run, a company will
save the money and the manpower that
will be devoted to recalling the product.
In the long run, being careful about
checking labels for allergens will save
the brand from the negative publicity
generated by the kinds of headlines
about yet another food recall that con-
sumers have come to both expect and
dread in equal measure. n
Emefa Monu, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of food
science at Auburn University.
1. Branum, A and DO Lukacs. 2008. NCHS Data
Brief No. 10.
2. Gupta, R et al. 2011. “The Prevalence, Severity and Distribution of Childhood Food Allergy
in the United States.” Pediatrics 128(1):e9–17.
“For those who suffer
from food allergies,
range from mild to
severe, and even life
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