Dubious processing ledto meat seizure: expert

Meat improperly dried, stored | University of Manitoba food processing expert says farm didn’t have necessary equipment to meet safety requirements

A nationally recognized food safety expert says the Manitoba agriculture department was right to seize cured meats from a small, on-farm food producer in late August.

He said the food probably contained deadly bacteria.

“I don’t have a problem with the regulatory action that was taken,” Rick Holley, a University of Manitoba food processing and safety expert, said about the seizure of prosciutto and other raw and dried meat and sausage from a Pilot Mound area farm.

“The hurdles (to pathogens) that normally would be exerted by these processes manufactured by normal standards would not necessarily be there, providing an opportunity for the biggest villain of all — clostridium botulinum — to germinate. It will be present in many of these products given this set of circumstances at the farm.”

Manitoba Agriculture department inspectors seized targeted specialized food products that Clinton and Pamela Cavers were developing on their farm. Some of the food used raw meat cured with salt and did not employ nitrate or nitrite.

Holley, who visited the Cavers’ farm in June, said the manufacturing process was dangerous because the meat was being improperly dried.

Raw meat needs to be stored in a cooler with a constant relative humidity of 75 percent at 16 to 18 C if it is to be safely dried using salt as a dessicant.

Holley said the Cavers’ cooler was not able to constantly maintain that level of humidity.

The surface of the meat can dry out if a cooler is too dry, trapping moisture inside. An ideal environment is created for various biological dangers if moisture is present when the meat is warmed to cause fermentation.

Holley also said the meat products were risky because the Cavers had been using various processes, with different ingredients, as they developed their methods. The records of these varying conditions were not good.

Holley said it is easily possible for the Cavers operation to upgrade its equipment and methods to meet food safety requirements, but those do not exist on the farm.

“It’s just that the systems that they have in place are not what they should be in order to deal with the challenges associated with manufacturing these products in a consistently good fashion,” said Holley.

“You’ll get some good ones, but you’ll get bad ones. It’s those bad ones that are risky.”

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