Or, should we say, pressing for pasteurization, demanding decontamination, or aiming for anything … well, a lot more aseptic?

When it comes to food safety, consumer perception has changed drastically in recent years.  As more focus is placed on the overall quality and safety of food by the media and lawmakers, there is a growing expectation that food can and should always be sterile.  

These expectations are actually reinforced every time the FDA or USDA announces another recall.  In my view, when consumers hear that food is becoming recalled for the suspected presence of pathogens that “may” be present, the federal government is really training them to believe that food that is NOT being recalled must be sterile.

And, those basic principles apply to all foods, whether they are raw meats or ready-to-eat meals. The net result, after all the fog clears, is a diminished awareness or even an expectation by consumers that the foods they purchase and prepare must be handled and prepared appropriately to avoid illness.

These same rules apply with respect to the regulators as well.  Whether dealing with ground beef or guacamole, the federal government is, in essence, imposing and enforcing a “zero-tolerance” standard for harmful pathogens.  This means, simply, that these products must consistently be pathogen-free to pass intense regulatory scrutiny.

So, what does this ultimately mean for the meat industry?  

Well, a few things.  First, harvest and processing establishments must realize that as more consumers are trained to believe that raw foods are and should be sterile, they will over time become less careful when handling those products and increase the likelihood they will make themselves or others sick.  In turn, meat producers will increasingly shoulder additional burden for the liability that results when those consumers file lawsuits seeking damages. 

Second, more effort will be put by USDA and others into the testing of raw animal products.  And, as we all know, the more you test, the more you will find; which all comes with a huge financial cost.  This year alone, for instance, more than 10 million pounds of ground beef, veal, pork and deli products have already been recalled for the presence of suspected pathogens.

What is the solution?  

While the science of food safety remains complicated, the real solution lies in seeing beyond the fog. The industry is trending in a direction where, eventually, all consumers (and the government) will expect and demand that all meat products are “pasteurized.” Don’t ignore these trends — embrace them, and start investigating and investing in strategic technologies that can accomplish these goals.

Whether we like it or not, change is on its way. Look for ways today to sterilize your steer and steaks.  In the end, your company will either need to get on the antibacterial bandwagon, or be left sorely behind.