From Big Facility to Local Farm: Regulatory Challenges for Meat Producers

This article is the final excerpt from an online panel discussion hosted by Burton Software on September 17, 2015. Start from the beginning of this seven-part series on innovations and development in food safety from the points of view of industry, technology, and policy or watch the entire panel discussion.

Our panelists are: Steven Burton (creator of Icicle cloud-based food safety application), Darin Detwiler (senior policy coordinator at STOP Foodborne Illness), and Michael Koeris (co-founder of Sample6 pathogen detection and control technology). Learn more about them at the end of this article.

Q7: How should meat processors understand consumer expectations with more and more recalls?

Burton: Meat processors are probably amongst the best prepared in the entire industry because they’ve experienced the regulatory scrutiny for decades. If you look at the top ten FDA most dangerous foods, number one: spinach. Also in the top ten, ice cream and strawberries. Meat isn’t even in the top ten.

Koeris: I would parse that statement out slightly differently. There are very large, well-regulated, and well-governed meat processors but there’s a strong movement originating on the consumer side to go towards hyper-local, farm-originating, small producer meat consumption. Up here in the northeast, the question is: do they all have the same capabilities to be in compliance even when they are inspected by the USDA? As consumers, especially when we are changing our hats to go towards small local producers for produce, dairy, as well as meat, we should take with us the expectation that the food needs to be safe.

Detwiler: The reason why you don’t see meat as high on the FDA list is the FDA doesn’t have anything to do with meat recalls (that’s the USDA). But we should take into consideration that in 2013, for instance, over 10 million pounds of beef were recalled and in 2014, slightly less. But when you have millions of beef still being recalled in the United States, it is still an issue.

Also of late, too, was the issue of mechanically tenderized beef. Up in Canada, there was an outbreak a few years back with mechanically tenderized beef and the Canadian government responded quickly by requiring vendors to label their products if they are mechanically tenderized. It took a long time for the government in the United States to make the same kind of change here. Next year in 2016, we’ll start to see the labelling of mechanically tenderized meat in the United States. So there are still issues to tackle within the meat industry. It is very much ever-changing and I think that part of the problem is you don’t hear so much from consumers, especially in the issue of mechanically tenderized meat because consumers have no idea that it’s even a thing. You can’t see it, you can’t tell unless it’s labelled and it wasn’t the average consumer who was making that loud voice in terms of the labelling of mechanically tenderized beef in the United States.

Burton: The point I was trying to make is that of the companies that are inspected, meat producers get more inspections than a chocolate producer. We have one company, for example, that we brought on recently, that has twenty years in the business without ever seeing an inspector. It’s not that common that you’d find that in the meat side of the world.

Koeris: Absolutely. From my observation, the meat industry is interesting. It’s almost primordial. The distribution model includes very, very large facilities, heavily regulated, with lots of inspections. There are inspectors on-site all the time for poultry, for hogs, for cattle. At the same time, there are many, many small meat facilities. It’s an interesting challenge to think about from an organizational point of view. How can you, as a meat processor, be in compliance when there isn’t the same kind of regulatory pressure on the smaller processors?

Burton: There’s another limitation I sometimes see. Large facilities will typically have someone on the line watching the production whenever the line is running, but very small producers may be inspected by regional authorities as opposed to federal authorities (at least that’s true in Canada). And those inspectors may not have the same depth of knowledge and training in hazard identification and control as the federal inspectors will have.

Detwiler: Especially with the Food Safety Modernization Act, the FDA is relying on the resources of all 50 states to take care of the inspections that are expected in the non-meat and poultry side of the food industry. And not every one of the 50 states has the same level of priorities or the same policies in place, let alone the same amount of resources to carry out those inspections.

 

Thank you to our esteemed panelists and our audience for following our seven-part series on transparency, technology, and communication in the food supply chain! Watch the whole panel discussion here.

About Our Panelists

Steven Burton, creator of Icicle Technologies Inc., is a software architect who started his career in architecture and moved into construction before establishing a successful manufacturing business in the ’90s. Moving into the software sector in the late ’90s, he established Burton Software in 1999 to specialize in the development of high-performance web-based software application. Burton initially designed Icicle to address the challenges to managing food safety for small to medium-sized stakeholders in the food industry. With Icicle, Burton strives to improve the safety of the world’s food supply by developing the tools to empower companies involved in the production, processing and distribution of food products to develop and verify codex-based HACCP systems.

Since the 1993 “Jack in the Box” E.coli outbreak, policymakers at the state, federal, and food industry levels have called upon Darin Detwiler as a significant voice in strengthening America’s food policies. Detwiler is a frequent speaker at national food policy conferences, delivering keynote speeches before government, industry, and university audiences across the USA and Europe. Detwiler is the senior policy coordinator at STOP Foodborne Illness, the nation’s leading nonprofit, public health organization dedicated to the prevention of illness and death from foodborne pathogens. He is the lead academic consultant and an adjunct professor in the MS Program in Regulatory Affairs of Food and Food Industry at Northeastern University, where he is also a Doctoral Candidate in Law and Policy with a focus on food policy.

Dr. Michael Koeris co-founded Sample6, Inc. and serves as its Vice President of Business Development. Koeris served as the President and Chief Operating Officer of Sample6. Koeris previously worked at KPMG Consulting and McKinsey & Company in Germany, as well as Flagship Ventures in Cambridge. Mr. Koeris was a recipient of the German Academic Exchange Fellowship (DAAD) to study at MIT. Koeris did his doctoral work on network approaches to combat antibiotic-tolerant bacteria with Professor James Collins, and co-developed Sample6’s technology, working with Tim. Koeris is a visiting scholar with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in the Biomedical Engineering Department at Boston University as well as at MIT. Prior to his doctoral degree, Koeris graduated with a M.S. in Biochemistry from the Free University of Berlin.

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