‘Show and tell’ (the truth)

by Bryan Salvage
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People fear what they don’t know, and it’s a safe bet to say most consumers don’t have a clue about how meat and poultry products are made. Although many consumers might quietly trust that the foods they buy are safe, this trust may be eroding among some of these folks due to the ongoing, highly publicized recalls that continue to be made on a wide variety of products. Chances are that once the manufacturing process is explained, many food-safety doubters will become food-safety believers.

The best way for consumers to learn about meat and poultry product manufacturing is to witness it first-hand. Credit must be given to those packing and processing companies that conduct tours of their facilities where usually small, guided groups of people are allowed to look out over the production floors from a distance through windows in enclosed hallways. Although a good idea, this concept doesn’t allow people to get “up close and personal” regarding how products are made. Due to product and personal safety concerns, allowing consumers to traverse slippery floors to nudge up close to potentially dangerous processing equipment isn’t a good idea — unnecessary traffic on the production floor should continue to be banned.

So, what’s the answer? One way to fill this knowledge gap is to produce a full library of 10-15 minute video shorts on how various products, such as bacon, ground beef, sausage, luncheon meats, flavored chicken wings, meat snacks and more are made. Who better to do this than leading processors within the featured categories? Of course, proprietary processes and ingredients, along with processing times and temperatures, will be omitted, but such videos could provide a step-by-step look at the processing of a product, including the types of raw materials, ingredients, processing equipment, processes and packaging used, as well as food-safety interventions that are incorporated throughout the process.

Briefly explain in laymen’s terms what various food-safety ingredients actually are and how they impact the final product. Also, don’t forget to cover the cleaning, sanitation and many QA efforts that take place on the processing floor each day.

Most recently, the American Meat Institute, with the help of Dr. Temple Grandin, Ph.D., internationally known animal-handling expert, professor of animal science at Colorado State Univ. and a regular contributing editor for Meat&Poultry magazine, produced a video titled, Glass Walls: A Look Inside a Typical Large Beef Plant, in which a video tour of a large beef slaughter plant shows and explains the various steps inside the plant, including proper animal handling and stunning. This is a tremendous learning tool and AMI promised more Glass Walls videos will be released in the future.

If consumers are allowed to continue visiting plants plus have an opportunity to see product processing videos, the truth can be provided regarding what goes into making meat and poultry products — and the various “mystery-meat myths” that have plagued industry for decades can be dispelled once and for all.

There’s another important group of people who also should be educated on how meat and poultry products are made: employees who work for meat and poultry companies — but not on the production floor. One way to accomplish this goal is to educate them on the processes during orientation after they are hired or to enroll them in a processing short course at a local university once they have been on staff for several months. I’ve attended a number of short courses and seminars at various universities over the years and each one was well worth the time, effort and money to attend.

Better-informed consumers will become smarter, more-confident meat and poultry product buyers. Better-informed employees will become more competent employees as well as good company spokespersons.

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