By Vickie Seltenreich, Senior Director of FSQA, Somma Foods
Now more than ever, producing safe food that customers can trust is a top priority. In addition to a damaged reputation, foodservice companies that do not prioritize food safety can face major losses. Customers must be able to count on the companies they purchase from to take all necessary measures to ensure food safety and quality.
When products are deemed unsafe, due to factors such as foodborne illness, recalls are set into motion to protect the safety of the consumer. Because product recalls can stem from a variety of factors including maintenance, training, and an overall lack of process control, it’s vital to stay on top of emerging food safety issues to proactively prevent them. Maintaining a commitment to food safety is not easy, but it is arguably the most critical part of delivering a quality product.
This year’s Poultry Federation Food Safety Conference brought together many of the industry’s most knowledgeable thought leaders to discuss the future of food safety, and three topics were highlighted as the biggest areas for change and improvement.
Poultry producers can feel positive about developments made in fighting Salmonella. While the bacteria is historically higher in other foods, Salmonella appears to be well-managed in poultry when compared with past rates.
This is likely due to the many preventative measures put into place by producers and the USDA. Currently, the USDA rates facilities effectiveness regarding Salmonella control on a scale of 1-3, 1 being the best and 3 the worst. The numerical rating corresponds to the percentage of positive tests for Salmonella. Now, many facilities also conduct their own testing utilizing a process known as enumeration. While it is difficult to completely eradicate the bacteria, facilities can reduce its occurrence by improving the environment the chickens are raised in and reducing their stress.
Somma Foods provides no antibiotics ever (NAE) poultry products under our Chickentopia® brand, meaning our chickens are never treated with antibiotics or growth promotants. Companies that provide NAE products must place an even bigger focus on environmental cleanliness and disease prevention, as any sick chickens are removed from the flock. Ultimately, vaccinations and probiotics can prove more important than antibiotics in preventing illness, and strong sanitation guidelines are key. It’s a challenge, but producing NAE poultry products from chickens raised in a good, clean environment enables us to provide the products that consumers are looking for.
While occurrences of Salmonella are decreasing, Campylobacter is on the rise. According to the CDC’s 2015 Food Safety Report, Campylobacter has risen 9% compared to 2006-2008. Many consumers hear less about this bacteria in the media, as Salmonella has a higher mortality rate, however Campylobacter can be attributed to many of the same factors that cause Salmonella.
The bacteria is often brought in from the outside, so many facilities are taking precautionary measures such as testing the surrounding soil to prevent an outbreak. They are also beginning to use the enumeration process, as it has shown promising results with controlling Salmonella. Other precautionary measures include testing the chicken feed, pest control, and an overall enhancement of existing programs.
Even though the prevalence of Campylobacter has increased, poultry producers are making positive progress and are working diligently to reduce and ultimately eliminate these issues. It’s important for companies who work with co-packers, as we do, to always ensure that satisfactory processes are in place to protect products and consumers from Salmonella, Campylobacter and other food borne illnesses.
3. Foreign Material
The last of the three factors, and certainly not the least, is the presence of foreign material in chicken products. Foreign objects in food can cause serious health issues and are a choking hazard, so it is critical to take every step possible to ensure that the product delivered is exactly what it is supposed to be – safe, great tasting chicken – no bones, metal, or anything else.
There are a couple of options available to facilities when it comes to screening for foreign material, including metal detectors and x-ray machines. The industry standard is currently metal detection; however, an increasing number of facilities are beginning to install X-ray machines. Adding an X-ray check point is costly, but effective. Most machines can detect the presence of any relatively dense material, including bones, plastic and metal. They are particularly effective when used to screen chicken tenders and other chicken breast items, as a metal detector alone cannot pick up bones.
While there are several ways to prevent foreign material from making it out of the facility, there’s still room for error. Many product recalls involve the presence of foreign objects, which makes it extremely important for companies to work with suppliers that meet food safety standards for the products they’re producing. As foreign material continues to be a prevalent problem for major manufacturers, staying vigilant and learning from previous instances is key.
Finally, customers desire transparency and honesty when it comes to the food they are serving, so companies must take their complaints seriously and move quickly when resolving them. Companies that respond well to customer complaints and put the correct food safety processes into place will find the insights gained helpful to improving product quality and ultimately, customer experience.