John Butts, Ph.D., vice president of research at Land O’Frost Inc. and president of consulting firm Food Safety by Design LLC, says all meat and poultry processors face challenges in food safety to make their products as safe as possible for consumers. But for many reasons, deli meat processing companies face even greater challenges.
He says when it comes to making deli meat and poultry safe, the most important “clean” is microbiological. “Deli operators must start out with perfectly clean meat and poultry,” he says.
That’s necessary because the amount of handling deli meat and poultry undergo during processing can lead to hazards and problems. “When you have slicing, cutting and handling of these products, you must be sure they remain as microbiologically clean as possible,” he says.
The proof of this trend? Butts points to Listeria, the bane of deli products. There have been more Listeria problems with produce and related products than meat or poultry. Those kinds of products have no “kill step.” “When was the last time processed meat or poultry from federally-inspected plants was linked to Listeria? Back in 2003 – 14 years ago,” he says.
Butts says USDA-inspected meat and poultry plants that slice and prepare pre-packaged poultry and meat deli products for retail sale haven’t experienced Listeria problems in many years. For retail deli operators who work with their own fresh meat and poultry deli products, the challenge is greater. That’s because in those settings, there are greater opportunities for problems due to the amount of handling, cutting and slicing going on, as well as the daily job of keeping their deli equipment clean and sanitary, and making sure pathogens like Listeria stay out. Deli operators are rising to meet these challenges, he believes.
One deli meat-based business operator who knows a great deal about how to keep his ready-to-eat food products clean is Elliot Fread, founder and owner of Bimmy’s in Long Island City, New York. He is a wholesaler who makes prepared foods, wraps, paninis, cold cuts, salads and desserts, and sells most of his products to retailers, including delis and sandwich shops. He also does catering.
Bimmy’s has been in business for more than 15 years, with 165 employees in a single facility. His customers include high-end retail, institutional and wholesale culinary customers. The company is US Dept. of Agriculture and Food and Drug Administration inspected, and SQF-certified.
“Five or six years ago, we saw this coming for deli. We were at a Weber symposium on food safety – I have a Weber Slicer. I came back to New York, and my eyes were opened to the emphasis on food safety, especially for the kinds of products we make. We make 400 products, with probably 1,000 ingredients. We follow all the regulations.”
Fread sees more food safety regulations working their way into retail delis and sandwich shops. “I see more HACCP and HACCP-like requirements in retail, not just wholesale producers,” he says. “We’ve become the experts when it comes to food safety, and that’s how it should be.”
He believes it’s up to food processors and to retailers, especially when they handle deli and prepared foods, “to know what’s going on,” he says. “How can you (as a business) not know everything you’re doing?”