Processed food is the new rage of our fast-paced lifestyle. If we call it an essential ingredient of our households, it will not be incorrect. Our passion drives our careers. Less time is available to prepare home-made food. So our dining tables see more of ready-made cuisines and shelf-stable meat snacks. This is not so bad. Though a bit expensive, these meat snacks and other ready-to-use dietary items are big on saving time and effort.
These meat snacks provide healthy protein options for diets like boiled egg diet. However, these gourmet meat snacks do not always come without health hazards. Their regular and extended use results in a variety of health problems. For example, individuals who consume processed meat may find themselves as high-risk cases for chronic diseases as diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiac ailments as well as some types of cancers.
Parallel to their projected long-term health risks, sometimes the processed food becomes a major source of food-borne illnesses. Clinically it is labeled as a medical emergency requiring quick and prompt treatment. For example, a report cited in Today’s Dietitian in April 2013, reveals, 200 of 825 guests became sick with stomach cramps caused by norovirus after a sorority brunch in a New York hotel.
Another incidence of possible contamination of Monogram meat snacks led to the recall of a whole batch of meat snacks. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the products were produced between January 16 and March 7, 2019. These included 191,928 pounds of Duke’s Meat Corp. and Conagra brand ready-to-eat pork sausage snacks. The case requires further investigation into the reasons leading to possible contamination. USDA remarks that the contamination most likely occurred after the production process and called for immediate discard of the purchased food items.
Such misfortunes not only pose a threat to community health but also proves detrimental to a company’s sales and repute. It is interesting to note that such mishaps often involve processed meat snacks. These meat snacks are important adjuncts to some of the best weight loss exercises.
Let us go into the details of hazards related to food production and safety. We will also look into some measures on how to avoid possible food contamination especially involving meat snacks.
Causes of food safety hazards
Food supply chain involves the following steps
- Final deliverance and service
Food safety hazard may disrupt any of these stages. Three main types of food safety hazards are
Microbiological food hazards
Microorganisms play an important role in our lives as far as our diet is concerned. For example, the action of microorganisms’ enzymes converts milk into cheese and yogurt, two essential ingredients of our dietary routines. Yet, these microorganisms have an equal ability to spoil our food if not kept under check and control. The examples include fungal infestation of bread and so on. Sometimes the food contamination may not be detectable by the naked eye. This creates more complications.
Air, food, water, soil, animals and our own body contain bacteria, viruses, and parasites. Under suitable conditions, they can thrive resulting in full-blown food contamination.
Physical food hazards
Poor food handling practices or accidental adulteration at any stage, from harvesting to service, leads to physical food hazards. It involves almost any kind of physical matter. Metals, human hair, nails, dirt, stones, and the list go on.
Chemical food hazards
Chemicals are present all around us. From crop pesticides to sanitizing solutions, the chemical food hazards has its reach at any stage of food handling. It may seep in from the cooking utensils or food storage containers.
Prevention of food safety hazards
According to the CDC, “approximately one in every six Americans (roughly 48 million people) experiences a foodborne illness each year. Of that number, 128,000 require hospitalization and 3,000 dies”.
Individuals on either extreme of the age cohort, the very young and the very old, are vulnerable to contracting a foodborne illness. Similarly, weakened immunity is another reason.
The only way to avoid such case scenario is “prevention via imparting knowledge”. Four basic steps cater to the food safety principle
Food items should be handled in a proper manner. Fruits and vegetables require thorough washing and cleansing. The surfaces coming in contact with fruits and vegetables should be separate from the ones used for meat. They contact surfaces, as cutting boards and knives require proper cleansing and sanitization after each use.
Proper thawing protocol should be in place for frozen food items. They should be immediately cooked once thawed. Never return a thawed food item back into the freezer. Processed food and meat snacks do not require much cooking. However, they do require proper cooking temperature for an optimum time period. Refrigerate meat and dairy products once not in use.
Cool cooked food before refrigeration. Experts advise discarding any food left at room temperature after four hours. In commercial settings, the total cooling time is about six hours, carried out in two phases.
Cutting boards, utensils, counter tops, and hands must be washed as required with soap and warm water. Hand washing should be an obligation at all levels particularly after a visit to the restroom.
Special precautions while handling meat and meat products
Though the four basics regarding food safety principle apply here also, some specifics about handling meat and meat snacks are
- save carting the frozen meat product till the end
- do not purchase products with torn packaging or expired dates
- refrigerate as soon as possible
- meat and poultry should be double wrapped with cling to avoid any juice spill
- thaw meat by keeping it in the refrigerator, in cold water or in microwave
- cook meat immediately after thawing
- Cook all raw beef, pork, lamb and veal steaks, chops, and roasts to a minimum internal temperature of 145 °F (62.8 ºC) while the ground portions should reach a temperature of 160 °F (71.1 ºC)
- Serve hot and cold food in complementary dishes so as to keep the temperature at 140 °F (60 °C) or warmer and 40 °F (4.4 ºC) or colder respectively
- Refrigerate leftovers immediately, consume leftovers within four days, reheat leftovers 165 °F (73.9 °C)
Take home message
Processed food and items including meat snacks are convenient options. Following food safety principles safeguards against foodborne illnesses.