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Pre-harvest Poultry Food Safety

What is pre-harvest food safety?

Pre-harvest food safety refers to the more recent measures that farmers and producers have implemented to detect harmful pathogens and to reduce the pathogen load in the food chain prior to processing methods. Pre-harvest food safety focuses on the surrounding environment and human activities to which animals are exposed.

Why is pre-harvest food safety important?

A comprehensive approach to poultry food safety must begin at the farm level, as harmful bacteria often originate there and then enter the food chain. Although certain interventions and handling practices during and after processing can reduce contamination risks, these measures are much more effective when farms can minimize contamination in their flocks.

How does bacteria enter the food chain?

Each strain of bacteria has different optimal growth conditions that depend on seven major factors:

  1. Temperature
  2. pH
  3. Salt levels
  4. Oxygen levels
  5. Time
  6. Water/moisture
  7. Food/nutrients

There are various types of bacteria that thrive in all sorts of environments, which makes food contamination difficult to monitor and control. Food contamination can happen at various levels of the food chain, and it is hard to trace, since there are many elements that expose food items to bacterial risk.

Bacterial contamination is the most common cause of food poisoning worldwide. Raw foods of animal origin are the most likely to be contaminated — especially raw or undercooked poultry and eggs.

Poultry species are prime reservoirs for many foodborne pathogens, mainly due to the internal conditions of birds. As a result, the poultry industry has focused on pre-harvest food safety, with efforts to reduce the prevalence of harmful pathogens before the animals go into the processing plant.

Which types of bacteria are most commonly found in poultry products?

Campylobacter, Salmonella, E. coli and Clostridium are some of the most common bacteria that cause foodborne illness in poultry products. Poultry is susceptible to these foodborne germs both within the animal and on the surface of raw poultry. Some strains of these bacteria even produce toxins that could lead to severe illness, hospitalization or death if undercooked poultry is consumed.

Food safety tips:

  1. Clean your hands and cooking surfaces often: This will help prevent bacterial growth.
  2. Keep raw meat separate from cooked meat: This will help to prevent cross-contamination.
  3. Cook poultry to the proper temperature: All poultry, including ground chicken and turkey, needs to be cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 165°F.
  4. Refrigerate at the proper temperature: Prevent foods from entering the danger zone of bacterial growth by quickly placing meat into the refrigerator for storage.

Salmonella and poultry

There are more than 2,500 serotypes, or sub-types, of Salmonella. Of those, less than 100 have been linked to human illness or infection. Some of the more problematic strains of Salmonella associated with poultry products are:

  • Salmonella Enteritidis
  • Salmonella Typhimurium
  • Salmonella Hadar
  • Salmonella Kentucky
  • Salmonella Reading
  • Salmonella Infantis

The poultry industry is committed to reducing the prevalence of Salmonella and aims to decrease the number of incidences of foodborne illness caused by poultry products. Traceability and complete supply chain focus are essential when considering this mission.

To better control and prevent Salmonella in poultry, it helps to know more about it and how it is being spread.

There are two main avenues for Salmonella transmission in poultry:

  • Vertical transmission: The bacteria are spread from hen to egg during the laying process.
  • Horizontal transmission: The bacteria are spread between pests, environments, humans or other birds.

How can you prevent foodborne illness?

There are multiple opportunities for food items to become contaminated, but there are also multiple ways to help prevent and eliminate impurities. Establishing a food safety program that encompasses pre-harvest, processing and post-processing safety precautions, with the proper storage and transportation conditions, is the best multi-faceted approach to controlling contamination and keeping food safe.