Environment control systems can help prevent E. coli outbreaks
Thursday, Jun 20th 2013

Frozen pork and beef stocks in the United States reached all-time highs at the end of May, about 19 percent above their five-year averages, Dow Jones Newswires reported. Yet as pork and beef stocks in cold storage are at record levels, environmental monitoring is paramount in ensuring the meat is optimally stored and safe conditions are maintained. One recent recall of ground beef products highlights the potential problems that can arise from improper storage and ineffective environmental monitoring.

The U.S. Food Safety and Inspection Service recently issued a Class 1 recall for 22,737 pounds of beef that are feared to have been contaminated with E.coli. The cases of contaminated beef originated from National Beef Packing Co. in Liberal, Kansas and includes a variety of ground beef products:

  • 10 pound packages of "National Beef 80/20 Coarse Ground Chuck with package code "0481"
  • 10 pound packages of "National Beef" 91/19 Coarse Ground Beef with package code "0421"
  • 10 pound packages of "National Beef" 80/20 Fine Ground Chuck with package code "0484"

According the the report, these recalled beef products were produced on May 25 and have a sell by/use by date of June 14, 2013. While there have been no known deaths or illnesses reported that are associated with the contaminated beef products, it is important to now take extra precautions as E.coli infections can have very serious consequences. While infection symptoms generally tend to last only a week in duration and cause no future problems, this is not always the case. In some cases of E.coli infection, people have developed severe blood and kidney problems within two weeks of the onset of symptoms like diarrhea, stomach cramps, nausea and vomiting. In rare cases, these complications can lead to kidney failure, long-term disability and even death, especially for children and older adults who are more susceptible to infection.

Utilizing environmental control systems to combat bacterial growth
The recall of the beef products is an all too common scenario, and both meat producers and consumers need to use controls like a temperature monitor to ensure that meat and other food products are stored in an environment that is not conducive to bacterial growth.

"FSIS advises all consumers to safely prepare their raw meat products, including fresh and frozen, and only consume ground beef that has been cooked to a temperature of 160° F," FSIS stated in its recall announcement. "The only way to confirm that ground beef is cooked to a temperature high enough to kill harmful bacteria is to use a food thermometer that measures internal temperature."

There are numerous other best practices for safe beef consumption, including thoroughly washing hands both before and after handling raw meat. While this is a smart preventative measure for people to take, temperature plays a particularly important role in the growth of pathogens, and proper temperature monitoring should be implemented from the initial production phase through various storage facilities to consumption.

When preparing meat to be cooked, the FSIS noted that using hot or warm water is especially helpful for dissolving fats or foods, which can also make it easier for deactivating existing pathogens on meat during the cleaning process. After the meat is cooked, use a temperature sensor or thermometer to test that the beef has been cooked fully and reached an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Any leftover, cooked meat from a meal will also need to be refrigerated within two hours of being cooked.