Sanitizing the surface

by Bob Sims
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 Food Safety
Precise application of surface intervention technology is a priority for processors.

Surface interventions provide processors an additional line of defense against the pathogens that threaten food safety and consequently, a company’s bottom line. Preventing foodborne illness is paramount to maintaining a positive brand reputation and strong relationships with suppliers, distributors and consumers. Breaking down a carcass of any species opens the door for pathogens and implementing surface interventions is the starting point for protection.

Salmonella, E. coli, Listeria and Campylobacter represent the main pathogens of concern for all species, while some pathogens are specific to one species such as E. coli O157:H7 found in beef.

“The act of ‘cutting’ or piercing the surface of meat poses risk because surface bacteria can be introduced into the sub-surface of meat,” says Bob Ogren, vice president of the equipment division at Henderson, Colorado-based Birko. “That is why the application of an antimicrobial prior to these actions is critical.”

Bug Spray

Mark Swanson, CEO of Birko, puts intervention technology in two categories, the intervention itself and the application of interventions.

“The evolution we are seeing today is driven from two forces – export market access and the requirement to become more precise in the application of interventions,” Swanson says.

Swanson says the market access issue makes it difficult to bring new chemical technologies to the marketplace. As a result, Birko and other organizations focus their efforts on more precise and efficient use of current chemistries already approved for export.

Jackson McReynolds, Ph.D. and chief scientific officer at Johnston, Iowa-based Passport Food Safety Solutions echoes Swanson on the difficulties of bringing new technologies into the market. “The regulations can be complicated and very expensive to navigate, especially outside the US with regulatory approvals,” he says. “Market access with any food safety technology is essential as meat exports play such an important role in the meat protein value chain.”

Concentrations of chemicals used have gone up as have the number of interventions, says Rob Ames, business development manager for harvest interventions at Lenexa, Kansas-based Corbion. “We’ve evolved from a single-use to a multi-use or multi-hurdle approach to intervention,” Ames says. Corbion has produced its Purac brand of lactic acid for slaughter processing for over 20 years according to Ames. “It’s very effective against Salmonella, E. coli, Campylobacter, really any pathogen or bacteria that you might have concern for,” Ames says. “Even Listeria is affected by lactic acid.”

Corbion also offers a buffered lactic acid-based product to protect against some of the effects of products with lower pH and the consequent discoloration that comes with it. In addition, Corbion offers a peroxyacetic acid-product which takes a different route to kill microorganisms.

“So we pride ourselves on being the leader in the lactic acid space and have a lot of customers who use our products around the world,” Ames says. “We’re new to peroxyacetic acid, but we have what we think is a really compelling portfolio.”

Ames explains the process by which lactic acid-based solutions target bacteria in a low pH environment as having the ability to pass through the cell wall of the target and dissociate once inside. It then acidifies the bacteria cell, damages and kills it.

Once processors cook the meat, Corbion takes a slightly different approach to food safety. The agent is still lactic acid-based, but now comes in the form of sodium or potassium lactate (salts of lactic acid).

“Lactates in cooked meats are bacteriostatic, which means they inhibit growth and proliferation of bacteria,” Ames says.

Corbion’s Optiform products (lactate and diacetate) are closer to neutral pH which is necessary to make desirable processed meats. The lactate molecules surround bacteria cells and subsequently dissociate releasing lactic acid which enters the bacteria cell wall. Bacteria then exhaust their energy trying to increase pH within the cell. This method of intervention prevents any bacteria that might be present on cooked product from putting energy into proliferation and multiplication.

Because of the nuance involved with each plant’s individual situation, Corbion goes into the plant to assess a customer’s needs and work with equipment manufacturing partners and equipment technicians to ensure the most efficient, effective solution.

“There’s so much to do with how these antimicrobials can work best with respect to concentration, pressure, water temperature, flow, application point, etc.,” Ames says. “There are a number of things that need to be known that we can advise on remotely. Yet when we get into the plant, we pick up on things and we know how to adapt our system to their need.”

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