By John Vatri

Recently we were approached by a company that was interested in providing its customer with a good ground beef product while using beef hearts in a low proportion, in the blend, to control costs.

We looked to one of our approved suppliers who informed us that indeed beef hearts ran close to 85% chemical lean, were high in protein and came at a discount to boneless beef. This supplier had passed all prior audits and had implemented the latest and most effective technological weapons against pathogenic bacteria on their harvest lines.

Prior to our first production, as part of our food safety program, we sampled the first shipment of beef hearts, and to our surprise the generic E. coli was too numerous to count! How could this be? We know this supplier employs all of the latest cutting-edge microbiological interventions on its harvest lines. More surprising, we barely are able to detect a single colony of bacteria from the boneless beef derived from carcasses we regularly receive from this same supplier.

We immediately held the raw material supplied, and with my micro plate in hand I sent through an urgent call to my food safety colleague. Thinking I had found an anomaly, a mistake, the one skid that slipped through their walls of intervention!

To our surprise, when I informed my counterpart of the counts and to warn him his walls of intervention had failed, he informed me that they did not employ their available microbiological interventions to beef hearts, that beef hearts are a "cheaper meat" cut and did not warrant the cost of an intervention.

Cheaper meats? Cheaper meats that did not warrant an intervention? How could this be when both the FSIS and the CFIA consider beef hearts as beef destined for grinding, and as with boneless beef, beef hearts must be tested based on N60 statistical sampling for E. coli O157:H7.

As part of beef destined for grinding, would beef hearts not represent the same risk and liability to our industry as the boneless beef that is derived from the carcass?

If so, why would arguably one of the best harvesters in North America, employing the most cutting-edge interventions on the carcass, allow other meats destined for the same grinders to go through its process without a microbial intervention?

To the company’s credit, my pleading for action has not fallen on deaf ears. Through many discussions and mutual sharing of data, we were able to get to the "heart of the matter" The result, our supplier installed lactic acid cabinets that the beef hearts must pass through. Our in-house tests confirm astounding reductions in indicative organisms thus confirming the efficacy of the intervention.

Maybe I can sleep now?