Safer Meat for Canadians

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Ready-to-eat (RTE) meat products, such as deli meats, are being studied by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) scientists to ensure their safety and find new ways to make healthier products.

A team led by Dr. Sampathkumar Balamurugan of AAFC's Guelph Food Research Centre is working on two research studies to ensure that industry processing techniques of RTE meats provide the safest and healthiest food options for Canadians.

Reducing Harmful Bacteria in Sausage

In Canada, food safety guidelines for meat processing companies are established by Health Canada. Any deviation from these guidelines requires meat processing companies to scientifically validate processing methods by demonstrating they control pathogenic bacterial populations in their products. The most common way of achieving this is by heating the product to kill bacteria. However some traditional RTE meat products, such as salami, are not cooked but are fermented and dry cured.

Dr. Balamurugan is examining how different fermentation and dry curing processes impacts seven serotypes of E. coli, including O157:H7 and six non-O157, but still pathogenic, in dry-fermented sausages. E. coli O157:H7 is a serious disease-causing food-borne bacteria. Processing techniques used in industry must reduce E. coli O157:H7 as per regulations, but it is not clear if they will control other pathogenic serotypes of E. coli.

"This research will lead to a better understanding of how the food industry can better prevent foodborne illnesses and how pathogens respond to food

– Dr. Sampathkumar Balamurugan, Lead Research Scientist

Dr. Balamurugan is quick to point out that this research does not have to be limited to E. coli. Other common food-borne pathogens like Listeria monocytogenes and Salmonella could also be tested this way to ensure RTE meat food safety for Canadians.

Impacts of Salt Reduction

Salt present in RTE meats serves a vital role as a food preservative to enhance shelf life and functionality in terms of flavor and palatability. However today's consumers want healthier food options and this is frequently achieved by reducing salt content in food. Dr. Balamurugan is examining how reducing sodium chloride (salt) in RTE meats and replacing it with an alternative compound, like potassium chloride or calcium chloride, will impact shelf life in these products. He is specifically looking at RTE meats that have been processed using a high pressure/cold pasteurization technique, which kills all bacteria present with minimal changes to the characteristics of foods.

"We found that reducing salt content in RTE meats actually increases the efficiency of high pressure treatments," says Dr. Balamurugan. "Higher efficiency means reduced treatment times, which saves energy and reduces processing costs, which is beneficial for industry and the environment."

These research projects were conducted at the Guelph Food Research Centre's Pilot Plant. The Pilot Plant is a unique food research facility that enables researchers to perform highly sophisticated and controlled experiments involving pathogens in a safe environment.

One of the key goals of AAFC research is to provide Canadian consumers with a variety of safe and beneficial choices while opening up new marketing opportunities for Canada's farmers and food processors through scientific innovation.

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The Guelph Food Research Centre Pilot Plant, where the studies were conducted.
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