There are products on the market that can assist with pathogen reduction in addition to shelf life extension. 
 
In 2015, 902 foodborne disease outbreaks were reported in the US. This resulted in 15,202 illnesses, 950 hospitalizations, 15 deaths and 20 food recalls, according to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention, Atlanta. Seeded vegetables were the No. 1 food category associated with outbreak illnesses, followed by pork, which was responsible for 924 illnesses from 19 outbreaks. Chicken had more outbreaks (22), while it was a comparatively quiet year for beef-related outbreaks.

“The CDC attributes three primary modes of failure for all foodborne disease outbreaks,” says Roger Maehler, senior director, seasoning research and development, Newly Weds Foods, Chicago. “The first is contamination, from post-cook cross contamination or the failure of decontamination. Then there’s proliferation, which is almost exclusively from non-compliant cold or hot holding. And lastly there’s survival, which is almost exclusively from non-compliant cooking processes.”

Many processors focus on decontamination of the carcass, as it makes sense to start with the cleanest possible raw materials. Cleaning is often achieved by using inexpensive chemical process aids that are not declared on ingredient statements. Decontamination is also important in order to meet federal guidelines and performance standards.

“While this approach is a good start, processors’ preventative measures cannot stop here,” Maehler says. “Decontaminating process aids are incapable of delivering completely safe ready-to-eat (RTE) products. By definition and regulatory requirement, these process aids cannot have any downstream functionality with regard to limiting growth or ensuring destruction when cooked.”

Addressing the hazards

Almost all (about 95 percent) foodborne disease outbreaks where meat and poultry are identified as the potential vehicle, are the result of undercooking, pathogen proliferation or cross contamination, according to CDC data. Decontamination is paramount, but not enough. A comprehensive food safety plan for meat and poultry products must address all hazards before, during and after the products leave the manufacturing facility.

“If you want to attack the other 95 percent of causative factors, you need pathogen proliferation control when notoriously unreliable refrigeration fails,” Maehler says. “You also need something to assist end-users to achieve a validated kill step outside of the tight constraints of a HACCP-controlled cook factory and something to reduce the potential for cross contamination in a home kitchen and foodservice.”

Lactates, propionic acid and acetic acid are all organic acids that are effective at controlling pathogen growth. Propionic acid is recognized as being the most effective of these acids; while vinegar, a natural source of acetic acid, is where a great deal of innovation has been taking place. This is because vinegar is an ingredient consumers understand and don’t view as a chemical preservative; thus, it is viewed as a clean-label ingredient.

Newly Weds Foods offers proprietary combinations of vinegar and spice extractives. The ingredients inhibit pathogen proliferation throughout product processing and distribution, reduce potential for cross-contamination and enhance Escherichia coli and Salmonella susceptibility to heat. The ingredients are sourced from nature, with organic and non-GMO options available. The easy-to-use liquid is applied directly to ground products and to whole muscle meats by marination. It does not impact food flavor or overall product quality.

“For raw beef and poultry applications, we suggest a usage level of 1 percent. This amount has demonstrated complete pathogen inhibition for up to a full month even when stored at 45° F, where exponential pathogen growth in controls is seen in less than two weeks,” Maehler says. “The extracts have also been shown to increase pathogen reduction by more than 90 percent at temperatures in the high 120s (degrees F) to low 130s (degrees F), where meat and poultry begins to look cooked but has not achieved the USDA-recommended kill level.”

World Technology Ingredients (WTI) Inc., Jefferson, Georgia, offers a range of functional ingredients for pathogen control, including liquids and powders, low-sodium or sodium-free options, clean label, natural, organic and non-GMO ingredients. All products inhibit the growth of Listeria monocytogenes, as well as other pathogens and spoilage organisms, thereby increasing food safety and extending shelf life.

“Our ingredients can be added directly into a food product or used as a topical treatment,” says Klaus Kreuzner, director of sales at WTI. “Our products are designed to inhibit Listeria growth in ready-to-eat items. We have conducted studies with our vinegars and achieved 70 to 90 days without Listeria growth at 0.5 to 0.7 percent usage rates.”

Vinegar, a natural source of acetic acid, can be effective in controlling pathogens.
 

Keeping labels clean

Lenexa, Kansas-based Corbion offers numerous products to control Listeria in RTE meat and poultry products. The ingredient systems use combinations of lactate and acetate, or their clean-label counterparts, ferments and vinegars.

“Our clean-label ferments are made from sugars that are naturally fermented using specific food cultures to produce a range of different actives, such as organic acids, small peptides, residual sugars and other fermentation products,” says Tom Rourke, Ph.D., director of business development at Corbion. “These ferments provide additional functionality such as yield enhancement, texture improvement and savory flavor in addition to combating pathogens and extending shelf life.”

Corbion recently introduced organic vinegar products that utilize unique clean label buffers and provide meat and poultry processors with non-GMO and organic labeling options. There’s also a new line of natural powder products labeled as cultured sugar and vinegar.

“They are low in sodium and provide pathogen and shelf life protection as well as a specific product used for mold inhibition,” Rourke says.

The company now has a clean-label antimicrobial that rivals potassium sorbate for mold inhibition, even in applications most vulnerable to mold, such as high-moisture meat snacks. The ingredient also provides pathogen protection.

“Being able to tackle the mold spoilage challenge without alienating consumers looking for a clean-ingredient label just hasn’t been possible before now. We believe this product can really impact sales for our customers,” Rourke says.

Des Moines, Iowa-based Kemin Food Technologies offers a liquid, propionic acid-based antimicrobial designed to protect RTE meat and poultry products from Listeria. It has been proven to extend product shelf life more consistently in comparison to traditional lactate-based products. Kemin was the first to commercialize such a product within the protein industry and was vital to getting propionic acid approved for use by the US Dept. of Agriculture (USDA).

“Since it is applied at a lower application rate, it contributes less sodium and lower cost-in-use than lactates and diacetates,” says Courtney Schwartz, senior marketing communications manager. “We also offer a label-friendly vinegar-based product for food safety designed to protect meat and poultry products from foodborne pathogens and extend product shelf life by delaying the growth of spoilage bacteria.”

Using ingredients to shield meat and poultry processors' products from pathogens.
 
Kemin’s buffered vinegar solutions have no negative effect on meat quality, including parameters such as water-holding capacity, protein denaturation, color or flavor. This line is available in both liquid, dry and no-sodium forms, making it easy to add to brines, marinades, spice blends or direct application to meat. It is also available in a certified organic form. 

“We have validated a 5-log reduction in Salmonella with our proprietary spice and herb extractives,” says Poulson Joseph, principal scientist, Kalsec, Kalamazoo, Michigan. “The extracts provide multiple functionalities, including flavoring and antioxidant attributes. This offers an extra layer of comfort to meat processors to keep the total microbial load under control and minimize any potential contamination.”

For fresh ground meats and fresh poultry, Kalsec offers a unique combination of vinegar and rosemary. Inclusion may improve quality, thus extending shelf life, while also assisting with safety.

“Benefits include color and oxidative stability as well as a 2- to 3-log reduction in spoilage (psychrothropic as well as total plate counts) microbes,” Joseph says. “This ingredient combination has very low or no flavor impact and does not compromise texture.”

USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) issued on Oct. 5, 2017, an updated directive detailing the ingredients that may be used in the production of meat and poultry products. The new directive states that a natural source of nitrite can be used in combination with a natural source of ascorbate in “naturally cured” meats as an antimicrobial intervention.

Typically, the two are not available as a blend because of potential interaction. They are added separately, with or without other food safety ingredients.

“In this regard, Kalsec offers unique combinations of acerola (cherry powder), a natural source of ascorbate, and rosemary extract,” Joseph says. “This ingredient system offers multiple functionalities, including cure acceleration, antioxidants and food protection, when used with a natural source of nitrite.”

Wenda Ingredients, Naperville, Illinois, offers all-natural, clean-label pathogen protection ingredients made from fruit and spice extracts. The product line includes a true “uncured” ingredient solution free of celery powder and chemical nitrites.

“By eliminating concentrated nitrites for the purpose of pathogen protection, we are delivering on the promise of truthfulness and transparency for consumers that are buying uncured labeled meats,” says Chad Boeckman, director of marketing and national accounts. “Our products are different in that we are using several hurdles for pathogen control, including polyphenol and flavonoid antioxidants as well as common pathogen protection ingredients for the carrier of these natural solutions, such as dried vinegar.”

The typical usage level is 0.6 to 1 percent. They are non-GMO and non-hygroscopic, making them ideal for seasoning blends used in marinades or dry rubs; however, direct application on all meat and poultry products is also an option.

Arjuna Natural Extracts Ltd., India, with a new US sales office in Dallas, is introducing a line of natural preservatives based on proprietary formulations of essential oils and oleoresins. The company’s ingredient scientists combine herbal extracts used in traditional medicine with methods of fermentation for bacteriocins, in concert with advanced technologies, such as microencapsulation and emulsification.

“Research has shown that combining select natural antimicrobials can have a synergistic effect, making them more effective than single components,” says Benny Antony, joint managing director for Arjuna. “Our new all-natural ingredient systems provide effective antimicrobial activity and shelf life extension without affecting flavor or mouthfeel.”

Bioprotection cultures were first used with traditional starter cultures in fermented sausages but are now used to add an extra layer of safety and microbial quality to products including cooked poultry slips.
 

Bioprotection cultures

Chr. Hansen, Denmark, offers bioprotection cultures for pathogen control in meat and poultry. Bioprotection is a natural way to inhibit spoilage and protect against harmful contamination in food. It refers to the use of safe bacteria, mainly lactic acid bacteria, selected from the natural microflora of food.

“Bioprotection cultures undergo a rigorous screening process,” says Véronique Zuliani, senior business development manager, meat and ready-to-eat food cultures at Chr. Hansen. “This includes ensuring there is no antibiotic resistance, and no production of toxin or biogenic amine, among other strict selection criteria. The cultures are specifically selected to protect meat and poultry by inhibiting unwanted contaminants, preventing food spoilage and providing an opportunity for manufacturers to extend shelf life.”

Bacteria have long been used to protect food, from salami to cheese. The good bacteria reduce the acidity of the food, which inhibits bad bacteria from growing.

In the meat and poultry industry, bioprotection cultures were first used with traditional starter cultures in fermented sausages. Today, they are used to add an extra layer of safety and microbial quality to other products, including bacon, cooked ham, cooked poultry strips and fresh sausages.

“Added in a large amount at the beginning of the process, the inoculated lactic acid bacteria will naturally dominate the endogenous microflora of the food due to microbial competition, which is what we call the Jameson effect,” Zuliani says. “The lactic acid bacteria also produce metabolites with antibacterial properties and cell-to-cell signaling, so-called quorum sensing, occurs. Thus, they inhibit the growth and most of the metabolic activities from the uncontrolled spontaneous flora.

“The bioprotection cultures do not negatively impact sensory properties of the meat products,” Zuliani says. “In fact, we have found that some protective cultures can even give a cleaner taste or keep a fresh taste longer.”

These bioprotection cultures are allowed as ingredients in or on processed products labeled as organic or made with organic ingredients, in accordance with the National Organic Program.

“Consumers are pushing for healthier options in meat,” Zuliani concludes. “They’re looking for less processed, lower sodium and chemical-free options with a longer shelf life.”

They also expect their food to be safe. Meat and poultry processors have a toolbox of ingredients to assist with preventing foodborne disease outbreaks.