Today, many people are concerned about the safety of their food. We want to be certain that what we are feeding our families (and ourselves), isn’t going to cause any harm. To ensure a product is safe, it must go through inspection and be deemed safe.
In 1906, The Jungle, written by Upton Sinclair, was published. This book followed an immigrant family as they started a new life in the United States working in the stockyards of Chicago. Part of the book talks about the poor working conditions for the immigrant families. President Theodore Roosevelt read The Jungle and moved forward to pass the Federal Meat Inspection Act of 1906; requiring by law that all meat available for sale be inspected for wholesomeness. Now, meat inspection is regulated by the Food Safety and Inspection Service, an offshoot of the United States Department of Agriculture.
There are a few different steps to inspection (although the process is similar in all species, these steps will be specific to beef):
Antemortem Inspection (ie. inspection of the animal prior to slaughter): After the animal is unloaded at the slaughterhouse, it is inspected by a USDA Inspector or Veterinarian. If any animals are deemed sick, injured, or unsafe for human consumption, they are removed from the food chain.
Maturity: Age of the cattle is very important in deciding how the carcass will be utilized. Age is determined by dentition (how many permanent incisors they have). If they are over 30 months of age, the carcass is clearly marked. A beef animal over 30 months of age is at a higher risk of a neurological problem known as Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, commonly referred to as mad cow. Although it is highly unlikely that an animal will be infected even if over 30 months of age, extra precautions are taken just to be safe. Meat from these animals can still be safely consumed, but all neurological tissues and the spinal column must be removed and destroyed.
Postmortem (after the animal has been slaughtered): Once the internal organs are removed, the inspector evaluates the heart, lungs and liver to look for any signs of infection, sickness, or disease. If all these organs pass inspection, the carcassh is deemed safe for consumption.
Finally, the carcass is evaluated for final inspection. In the meat industry, there is zero tolerance for fecal matter, ingesta and milk. If there are any signs of these contaminants, they must be cut off. Any other signs of contamination are also removed as they may be a carrier to the three zero tolerance contaminants. After any sign of contamination has been removed, the carcass is sprayed with 180 degree F water as a way of thermal pasteurization. The carcass may also be steam pasteurized and sprayed with a low concentration lactic or acetic acid to hinder bacteria growth.
Once all steps of inspection have been completed, the carcass is marked with an inspection stamp. As stated in my post about labelling, labels on all meat products require an inspection stamp. All processors have a unique number specific to their location which is included on the inspection stamp. I really like the app “USDA Meat and Poultry Inspection (MPI) Directory,” as it lets me type in the number on the inspection stamp and find out where my food came from, so cool!
This post just touches on the topic of inspection around the time of slaughter. There are many additional points during meat production that are regulated to ensure a safe, wholesome product for your family. We will touch on those soon!
*All the highlighted words in this and future posts will be included in a “Common Terms” post. They are words that I know are often used in the industry but may be a little confusing! *