Clean Cattle – Healthy Food
Joe Ryan, Meat Industry Ireland
A major cornerstone of the beef industry is the production of a high quality, safe product, to the highest of international standards. Food safety is an absolute. The reputational and economic cost of a serious food safety incident could have massive negative implications for the entire sector. One constant challenge faced by the beef industry is the potential for E. coli contamination of meat. In this context, it is essential that cattle which are presented to slaughter plants are clean and dry and meet with the Department of Agriculture’s Clean Livestock Policy (CLP). One of the biggest and most constant threats that exist is that of pathogen contamination and particularly contamination with E Coli 0157. One channel whereby infection can occur is through cross-contamination from dirty hides onto the surface of carcases. Hide-to-carcass contamination is a crucial meat safety issue and industry invests significant resources in ensuring hygienic carcase dressing. It is an area that requires continuous improvement by both farmers and the meat industry. All stakeholders in the industry must do all that is possible within their control to minimise the risks at their stage of the process. Ruminant animals, cattle in particular, can harbour O157 and other VTEC (verocytotoxin producing Escherichia coli) in their faeces. These animals may harbour and shed VTEC while remaining healthy or exhibiting only mild signs of infection. VTEC survive well in the farm environment. Sources of contamination include water, organic agricultural materials (i.e. animal manure and slurry), feed and farm surfaces. Measures to control the spread of VTEC on the farm include the provision of safe feed and water to animals as well as good housing management and hygiene practices. While complete eradication of VTEC from farm livestock or the farm environment is unlikely, practical risk reduction measures must be adopted at farm level. In the case of cattle producers, this means presenting animals for slaughter that have clean dry hides. The greater the level of faecal contamination on a hide, the greater the risk of cross contamination. Beef finishers need to ensure that all aspects of their winter finishing processes are designed to ensure the minimum levels of contamination on the animals hides. The situation has not improved in recent years and therefore requires urgent attention and action. The key factors that affect contamination levels of hides of animals in sheds are ventilation, diet, housing, husbandry, transport and pre- sale management. Hauliers and livestock transporters also need to ensure that animals don’t become dirty or wet while in transit to the abattoir. The appropriate design and operation of trailers as well as the loading and off-loading practices play an important role in the cleanliness and dryness of animals on arrival at the abattoir. Farmers should insist on good practice in the transport of their animals.
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