Because 3000 deaths occur every year in the U.S. from salmonella poisoning, food safety experts are continually developing new processes and products to reduce the outbreak of food poisoning in the food we consume. The human cost of food poisoning cannot be measured, but the industry cost to food manufacturers is around $77 billion per year. The largest recall in Canadian history occurred in 2012, when 8 million pounds of beef was found to be infected with e.coli from a processing plant.
Due to this outbreak, researchers at the University of Alberta received a $220,000 grant from the Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency (ALMA) to research safety issues in the cattle industry. The researchers began developing packaging labels that change color when pathogens are present, creating an obvious way to side-step bad food, reports Food Safety News.
The polymer-based labels look like a normal plastic material that turn from clear to blue or white or cloudy if e.coli, listeria, or salmonella are present. The labels have the advantage of speed in detecting pathogens over other methods as well as being inexpensive and easy to manufacture.
In addition to detecting the pathogens, the labels will be able to detect environmental changes that can compromise food safety, such as temperature and ruptured packaging. ALMA’s CEO Gordon Cove said, “These smart labels act as an instant visual alarm when something goes wrong, reducing the risk of contaminated food getting on the shelf. Contamination can even occur after consumer purchase, so this can actually increase safety beyond retail stores.”
While food contamination, with developments like these labels, can be lessened, it cannot be eliminated without the processing companies getting back to food processing basics concerning food safety as well as industry trade groups like ALMA pushing for improvements.
Pak West recently joined the Southwest Meat Association (SMA), which regularly provides educational seminars and conferences on food safety, as Pak West does a large volume of business with meat and poultry packaging. “Having access to a trade group like SMA keeps us informed of meat safety concerns and developments within the industry,” said Stacey Ferrari, a Pak West territory sales rep in Texas, where SMA is located.
The research by the University of Alberta has another year to go in the three-year project, however, the technology appears promising for improving food safety in the factories and in the stores.
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