When it comes to supermarkets, butchers and restaurants, we can safely say that South Africa generally equates its food safety to first-world standards. But although most healthy people will recover from most foodborne dangerous bacteria, there are some basic standards that will ensure that these never become an issue.
Wash hands and equipment
When handling meat products, wash hands with warm water and a disinfected soap for at least 20 seconds before and after handling and definitely after using the bathroom, changing a baby’s nappy or handling pets or livestock.
Make sure that cutting boards, dishes, utensils and work surfaces are washed down after each use.
Keep raw meat separate from all other foods. Use a different cutting board for meat, poultry and seafood. Don’t re-use marinades used previously on raw meat.
The role of temperature
When cooking meat, appearance is not an accurate judge. Temperature is the important measurement. Here’s a guide for cooked meats that you should try and follow using a probe thermometer:
|Beef, pork, veal and lamb||62ᵒC||Rest for 3 minutes|
|Ground beef or lamb||65ᵒC|
|Ham uncooked, smoked or fresh||62ᵒC||Rest for 3 minutes|
|Ham cooked to reheat||60ᵒC|
Professional meat logistics companies will deliver in refrigerated vehicles, but the storage facility should also be kept at the correct temperature. In the case of frozen product, a temperature of – 18ᵒC is optimal. Delivery vehicles should chill down to that temperature as well.
Make sure that the delivery doors are opened for as short a time as possible when effecting a delivery. For chilled product, temperatures should be in the -1, 5ᵒC to 5ᵒC range, depending on the type of meat and its method of preservation.
Meat is chemically composed of water (approximately 50–75%), protein (approximately 15–20%), fat (approximately 5–35%), mineral salts (1–2%) and carbohydrates (glycogen; 0,3–0,5%). The air in the storage facility or delivery vehicle should be as clean as possible and this is where new technology can assist.
Bluezone is a machine that operates with a combination of a catalyst and ultra-violet light to remove all microbial contaminates as well as bacteria and ethylene, ensuring cleaner air and thereby increasing the shelf life of the products within its reach and maintaining their freshness.
A number of other technologies for cleaning the air are also available. Potassium permanganate crystals will reduce ethylene, while a modified atmosphere is one of the treatments used nowadays for animal products. This technology employs a gas-composed atmosphere which is different from the normal (i.e. 21% O2, 79% N2 and minor amounts of other gases).
A more common complementary treatment for meat storage is the vacuum packaging of boneless meat cuts. Special extremely airtight (oxygen-tight) synthetic films have been developed which can be heatsealed after removing the air around the packed meat cut, thus keeping it practically out of contact with the surrounding atmosphere.
Provided that hygienic slaughter and cutting methods are used, the shelf-life of meat packed in this way and stored under 0° to -1°C can be extended remarkably (up to eight weeks for beef, four weeks for lamb and two to three weeks for pork), which is important for the export of boneless chilled meat from meat producing countries. This type of packaging is widely used for shipments of dried beef and mutton.
Use of radiation
In special cases radiation is used as a complementary treatment to extend the shelf-life of chilled meat carcasses. However, this treatment is subject to national food legislation and is not allowed in many countries.
UV light (200–320nm) is also used to reduce surface microbial contamination on meat and meat products. As the cuts have irregular shapes, it is rather difficult to achieve the same radiation intensity, so it is normal procedure to irradiate the most contaminated zones. Radiation intensity produced by a 30W UV-lamp is enough for every 10–12m2 of floor space in a slaughterhouse or cold chamber. Bluezone can offer three times that coverage.
Ideal meat storage standards as suggested by the United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) recommend that meat storage areas should run at 4°C and have a relative humidity of 85–95%.
It seems that professionals in the industry here in South Africa adhere to many of these guidelines, but as with all things, there is always room for improvement. – By Mike Westcott, Bamic Enterprises