Cargill develops safer food processing methods, including unique ways to eliminate harmful bacteria from meat.
Step inside any of Cargill’s many meat processing facilities and you will see a focus on developing safe, high-quality, sustainable products to nourish the world. The company works diligently across all food categories to develop and implement food safety innovations, a specialized field dedicated to properly producing, handling, preparing and storing food to minimize the human health risk from foodborne illness.
In 1993, an E. coli O157:H7 outbreak in ground beef heightened public awareness about the need for improved food safety to address the potentially devastating consequences of foodborne illnesses. Though Cargill did not supply the ground beef contaminated with E.coli O157:H7, the event resulted in intense focus on the topic. Over the past 15 years, Cargill has invested more than US $1 billion in food safety, including new technologies, enhanced food safety protocols and improved and expanded training—all to combat randomly and naturally occurring bacteria such as E. coli and Salmonella. Currently, more than 700 full-time Cargill employees in North America work to ensure the safety of meat produced by Cargill at the company’s beef, pork and poultry processing facilities.
The company’s commitment to food safety has resulted in a host of industry-leading innovations. Following 1993’s E. coli outbreak, the company co-developed steam pasteurization, a process that blankets beef carcasses with intense steam to successfully kill 99.9% of surface bacteria. The system earned approval from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) within two years, making Cargill among the first to introduce the groundbreaking system. Thermal pasteurization with steam or hot water carcass washes is now standard at all Cargill beef harvest plants.
The company’s efforts to combat foodborne illnesses are continuous. In the early 2000s, Cargill instituted the Hide-On Carcass Wash to further reduce the occurrence of E. coli. The method, which Cargill co-developed, uses spinning bristles and a mild, anti-bacterial solution to scrub cattle hides—the cattle equivalent of a car wash.
Recently, Cargill’s food safety efforts have focused on Salmonella bacteria in turkey and beef. As a result of the company’s 2011 ground turkey recall due to potential contamination from Salmonella Heidelberg, a team of Cargill food safety experts developed Threshold Testing for Salmonella, replacing a time-consuming and costly method. The process involves sampling each batch of product produced, then testing those samples for their level of Salmonella. Cargill’s method reduces the risk of public health outbreaks due to raw turkey and beef products containing Salmonella, and at the same time, reduces the costs to the business of production and segregation of raw turkey and beef products containing Salmonella.
Threshold Testing places an emphasis on the level of Salmonella bacteria, replacing tests that merely indicate the bacteria’s presence. More than one Salmonella cell-per-gram in a batch of ground meat products results in the cooking of that product to kill all bacteria. Products that pass the test with less than one Salmonella cell-per-gram are released for sale within eight to twelve hours, enabling Cargill to efficiently provide customers with a reliable supply of raw products, causing minimal disruption to supply chains.
As a food safety leader and pioneer of numerous practices that have become industry standards, Cargill shares with the industry the food knowledge and best practices it develops, not considering food safety as a competitive advantage. Collaboration with regulators, trade associations, producer groups, customers, peers and others helps Cargill better meet its commitment to provide safe food every serving, each day.
Thermal pasteurization and Threshold Testing are only two of the many innovative efforts by Cargill’s food safety, quality and regulatory team in its ongoing quest to better ensure the safety of Cargill’s meat products.