Are Vegetables Safer To Eat Than Meat?
Horse meat scandal. Bird flu. Swine flu. E.coli. You’d be mistaken for thinking that all of the food safety scandals surround meat consumption. However, is this just media bias, or are meat products actually proven to be more dangerous to consume than vegetables.
Expecting to receive raw meat that is completely free from bacteria could be compared to expecting to win the lottery every week. Not only is it unrealistic but it is also pretty pointless. We tend to cook (or treat) raw meats before we eat them so that bacteria are reduced to safe levels.
Playing devil’s advocate, previous coverage in the Guardian about failing standards in abattoirs could actually be seen, in some ways, as not being news. The Food Standards Agency (FSA) have firmly set the record straight on the findings of the investigation, noting that only 0.43% of ALL meat produced in abattoirs is rejected by official inspectors. Yes, inspections may find problems in operations, but this is the case for the majority of audits or inspections at any food operation – inspectors usually find something!
There is one key concern when it comes to the findings of the
Guardian article and this is in direct relation to the issue of rare burgers. FSA guidance is quite specific around the sourcing of meat which is produced for consumption following light cooking. If, as is alleged in the article, E.coli is present on meat used to make less than thoroughly cooked burgers, there is the heightened risk that rare burgers may cause an E.coli food poisoning outbreak if suitable controls are not in place and, clearly, this would be of concern to food business operators who actively sell rare burgers.
Here are our top tips for ensuring safe meat production, handling and consumption within your business:
Control your supply chain – ensure that the place you buy your meat from both holds and maintains the correct government approvals and is certified to the highest 3 rd party audit standard possible. By undertaking spot checks yourself or asking for unannounced audit visits you can also help to remove the risk that standards are good for announced visits but then drop off when audits are not due. Ensure that the raw meat is stored safely – maintain the cold chain from point of delivery to preparation by setting your expected delivery temperatures with your supplier, and actively checking them. This will help to reduce any bacterial growth on the meat prior to preparation. Control contamination risks – this should extend to deliveries, checking that delivery drivers do not expose meat to contamination during transport and delivery and that you remove the risk of raw meat contaminating ready to eat foods during storage, preparation and service. Avoid washing raw poultry before use as this can contaminate areas of the kitchen. Cook meat thoroughly – ensuring that meats are prepared and cooked thoroughly is an essential control. Whilst some meats e.g. steak can be cooked rare, remember that rolled meats should be cooked through. Always follow the FSA controls for rare burgers to the letter if you are looking at serving them. Train your staff – ensuring that your staff understand hazards and associated controls is essential to reducing the risk that raw meats will contaminate other foods.
Raw meat has had bad press over recent years, whether it’s the horse meat scandal, campylobacter in chicken from supermarkets or hygiene standards in abattoirs. It is safe to say, however, that raw meat is a low risk product if handled correctly and by following these simple rules it should be safe to eat, whether contaminated with bacteria or not.
So just how dangerous are vegetables in comparison to meat? Salad vegetables are sometimes reported as more dangerous than meat, due to the bacteria and microbes present in the soil that the salad grows in. With meat, these bacteria can be cooked off and killed, but with salad, this is a lot more difficult.
STS food safety manager Annabel Kyle says: “The leaves and vegetables used to makes salads can be contaminated in a number of ways: with chemicals from pesticides used when growing the produce, by bacteria which can come from the soil the vegetables are grown in, or from animals and birds which may access the fields these products are grown in. As salad leaves and vegetables are not cooked prior to eating, other methods must be used to remove contaminants from the produce. This will involve thoroughly washing all salad produce before use, making sure it is thoroughly agitated in clean water so that chemical and soil residues (including bacteria) are removed before rinsing with clean water.
“Salad sanitising liquids or tablets can be added to the water to help reduce any bacteria present to safe levels. The question is, how can we tell if we have successfully removed contaminants as we can’t see the chemical residues or bacteria? When we are cooking meat to destroy harmful bacteria we can use a probe thermometer to check that the inside is cooked to the required time and temperature combination but we can’t do this with salad produce. The washing of salad produce (and other fruit & vegetables to be eaten uncooked) is the only method available so food businesses need to ensure their process is suitably robust and that staff are fully trained in the correct procedure. Salads that are sold as ‘ready to eat’ are another option – these have been pre-washed by the manufacturer but must be used within the use by date on the packet, otherwise bacteria in the water residues may have multiplied and the product may then not be safe to eat.
“Overall, salads are considered one of the products most likely to cause food-related illness!”
As with the manufacturing and sale all food products, controls need to be implemented at every stage of the supply chain in order for your consumer to stay happy and healthy after eating.
For guidance on implementing robust food safety controls, talk to our team today on 08450 50 40 60.