Researchers[i] believe that in 1999, foodborne pathogen contamination accounted for more than six million illnesses annually. These pathogens also accounted for over 9000 fatalities each year. Clearly, with so much at stake, it’s not just important to focus on the product itself – beef, pork, poultry, or game meats – but also on cleaning and disinfecting environmental surfaces in and around those products. Meat storage may be the weakest link in an otherwise well-managed production process (e.g., slaughtering, cutting, slicing, chopping, mincing, packaging).
Focusing on Sound Meat Storage Protocols
And because we typically don’t consume meat products immediately upon harvesting/slaughter, its storage requires special cleaning and disinfection protocols to avoid contaminants like Listeria monocytogenes (LM), Salmonella typhimurium (ST), and Campylobacter coli (CC). The handling and storage of meat occurs during several points in the production and storage supply chain. These processes involve raw meat, processed materials, finished (ready to ship to consumers), and ready to consume (or ready to eat) products.
From the time livestock, be it pigs, sheep, cows, chickens, turkey, or other farmed animals, are slaughtered, to the point that it is cooked and used up by end-consumers, meats may be handled and stored multiple times – sometimes, on several occasions during a single process. And there lies the health and safety challenge that many in the meat production and processing industry face:
· The more handling and storage that fresh meats are subject to, the greater the risk of contamination or infection
· The longer that food stocks, including fresh and processed meats, lay in storage, the higher the risks of storage-related contamination they face. For instance, this might occur as a result of improperly cleaned shelves, sparsely disinfected cold-storage units, fridges and freezers, or infection as a result of unclean handling equipment, or contamination due to power outages or equipment mechanical failure
While it’s vital to clean and sanitize meat to deal with potential contamination in the raw product itself, cleaning and disinfecting environmental surfaces in and around meat production facilities is equally, if not more! – essential. One research[ii] initiative focused on evaluating the effectiveness of electrolyzed oxidizing (EO) in dealing with bacteria associated with fresh meat (specifically, fresh pork – but the results may be generalized to other meat products too).
The study analyzed the effectiveness of several disinfectants, including distilled water, chlorinated water, and electrolyzed oxidizing water (EOW). And, researchers made observations on the samples stored at various intervals, over a 7-day period, including after two days of aerobic storage, and five days (day 7) following vacuum-packaging and refrigerated storage.
The results confirmed that electrolyzed oxidizing water (EOW), also known as hypochlorous acid (HOCL), is capable of significantly reducing CC associated with fresh pork surfaces, even after seven days of storage. Analysts believe that, depending on the type of microbial contaminants that meat may encounter in a particular storage and handling environment, longer (than the 15 s in the study) contact times, between sample and disinfectant – in this case HOCL/EOW – may prove an effective anti-contamination protocol.
Protocols to Enhance Meat Shelf Life
You may not appreciate this fact, but your meat handling and storage protocols have a lot to do with prolonging the shelf life of all types of meats in your inventory, be they raw stock, processed, or ready-to eat (RTE) products. Even when you refrigerate or freeze raw stock as quickly as possible, post harvesting, the lag time between slaughter and freezing is often sufficient for microbial contaminants to take hold. Even though you may implement good manufacturing protocols subsequently, because the meat already contains harmful microorganisms, its can dramatically reduce shelf life.
Farmers and product manufacturers must implement appropriate meat handling and storage protocols, designed to apply safeguards to this process. From cleaning and disinfecting counters and table tops, to cleansing of the environments in abattoirs and packaging plants – it’s all part of the linked supply chain. These protocols can significantly enhance product shelf life – and there’s ample evidence that they do so.
Previously in this post, we reviewed research to confirm how implementing enhanced hygiene protocols in meat storage and processing environments, that include cleaning and disinfecting environmental surfaces, does lead to lower instances of contaminants such as LM, ST, and CC. Researchers[iii] also conducted experiments to verify whether there is validity to the assumption that certain treatment protocols can, in fact, extend the shelf life of raw meat.
In this study, analysts applied various treatment protocols on fresh meat, including tap water, and various combinations of electrolyzed oxidizing water (EOW) – a.k.a. HOCL. The results of the study revealed that meat, treated under the disinfecting protocols, had a longer shelf life compared to untreated samples. The shelf life extension, in some cases, was more than 6-days, which is a significant time when meat must stay stored for longer durations when transported or when awaiting subsequent processing – post harvesting.
Simple and Cost-effective Solution
Regardless of where you lie in the meat products supply chain, implementing sound storage and handling protocols is essential to prevent product and raw material contamination. And these protocols must include cleaning and disinfecting environmental surfaces. We’ve seen that electrolyzed oxidizing water (EOW), also known as hypochlorous acid (HOCL), is highly effective as a food-safe disinfectant, but cost-constraints are typically at the forefront of any safety protocol.
Fortunately, cost is not a significant consideration when it comes to HOCL. With HOCL manufacturing equipment, the meat industry can now produce unlimited supply of EOW/HOCL, in a variety of concentrations. Having this capability removes the stress of ‘controlling costs’, which typically leads to making less effective disinfection protocol decisions. Now, HOCL generating machines allow you to support your protocols with ease, without fear of running out of disinfectant at critical stages in your process.