• Meatingplace Magazine


    By Lisa M. Keefe, Meatingplace Magazine

    John Vatri's first stab at a career disappointed him, but his career in the meat industry has restored his fatih in his fellow man. 

    Click here to view article




  • North American Meat Institute

    Each year, the North American Meat Institute (NAMI) presents its Industry Advancement Award to an individual or company whose contributions and innovations have positively affected the meat and poultry industry. It is my pleasure to inform you that you have been selected to receive this award in recognition of your dedication to the meat industry as a whole and specifically for your leadership in creating the NAMI Task Force that launched the “Trust in Animal Protein” (TAP) initiative.

    Thanks to your support in the formation of the TAP Task Force, we have seen significant, positive collaboration within the meat industry to recognize the changing consumer landscape. You have dedicated your time and expertise to redefining the NAMI vision and its core strategies in order to build trust through transparency within the animal protein sector. In addition, the insights and contributions you have made to the Meat Institute through your service as an officer of the Board of Directors and on other committees has been a true asset to the organization and NAMI’s goals.

    Congratulations John!

  • Cardinal Meat Specialists Limited

    BRAMPTON, ON. May 28, 2018. Cardinal Meat Specialists Limited (Cardinal), a family owned, leading producer and marketer of fully cooked proteins and burgers, announced that it has acquired 100% interest in Ontario based D&S Meat Products Ltd., operating under The Elite Meat Company name.

    The Elite Meat Company (Elite Meat) is a family owned and operated company famous for its commitment to family recipes and Canada’s best Peameal Bacon. It produces the only “All Canadian” and certified Gluten Free Peameal Bacon, from an old, traditional recipe, using only fresh Canadian pork. Elite Meat owns the number one food service position in Peameal Bacon across Canada.

    The company also makes a wide range of excellent sausage products, including three varieties of all Canadian pure pork breakfast sausage, eight varieties of BBQ / Dinner sausage, and a variety of European specialty sausages and chevaps.

    “The Elite Meat Company’s portfolio adds to Cardinal’s unique capabilities to serve its retail and food service customer base. This acquisition will not only expand our portfolio of products, it will also give us additional sausage capability and a solid platform in the breakfast day part,” said Mr. Brent Cator, President and Owner of Cardinal Meats Specialists. “With Dan Milanovic joining the Cardinal team, we will further enhance the depth of our protein platforms and customer base,” added Mr. Cator.

    “I am thrilled to join Cardinal Meat Specialists where I have found a match in family values and approach to serving customers,” said Mr. Dan Milanovic, President & CEO of D&S Meat Products Ltd.. “My brother Sasha and I are very proud of our team, our culture and our products which have grown substantially since the company was started by my parents, Radovan & Luba Milanovic on Gerrard and Coxwell in the early 70s.

    "I look forward to working with the team at Cardinal and its Customer base to help accelerate the Elite brands’ growth across Canada”, added Mr. Milanovic.

    Cardinal Meat Specialists has custom created a broad range of specialty products from burgers to fully cooked proteins servicing both retail and food service customers across Canada. The company’s roots trace to Jack Cator starting on the farm and then running butcher shops, followed by son Ralph who elevated the business to protein processing in the 60’s under the Cardinal name. Now under the stewardship of third generation Brent Cator, Cardinal Meat Specialists serves its customers with state- of-the-art technology to provide the safest, most consistent and of highest quality products possible.

    For further information, please contact Brent Cator, President and CEO at (905) 459-4436 extension 245.

  • behuman Clothing Co.

    "No need to pinch yourself, you're not dreaming.

    Canadians are beer-drinking, hockey-playing, maple-syrup lovers. There's no denying the truth in that, BUT we're also one of the most diverse, empathetic and beautiful countries in the world (sorry to brag). We want to show the world how Canadians truly roll, and the best way to get Canadians moving is to put a crap load of poutine in front of them, right? On that note, we're so excited to announce that we've teamed up with Smoke's Poutine to award one lucky Canadian with a year supply of Poutine.

    Here's how you can be the lucky winner:

    Tag @behumancloting and @smokes_poutinerie on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook with your 'Meanwhile In Canada' story- you know the moments that only happen here, in the place we call home . Use the hashtag #MeanwhileInCanada and you will be entered to win a year supply of Smoke's Poutine. On August 31st, we will choose the story that provides the best examples of Canada's grit, tenacity, character, compassion and empathy and the entrant will be awarded of a years supply of poutine.

    Pretty great, eh?

    Let's show our pride for this amazing country."


  • the meatingplace

    Good Morning America by Tom Johnston, managing editor, August 2015

    BRENT CATOR, president of Canada’s Cardinal Meat Specialists, says it’s time for the meat industry to wake up to the changes on the not-so-distant horizon.

    Those who have attended industry conferences and joined his popular “Issues, Answers and Action” sessions know this. Continue talking at your table after he’s asked for conversation to end, and you’ll soon find him hovering over your shoulder with a microphone and bringing the entire room’s attention to your oblivious rambling. Cator, shall we say, commands attention. And his company, Cardinal Meat Specialists in Brampton, Ontario, Canada, has been getting plenty of it, particularly for its advances in burger forming and in sealed-environment cooking. Natural Texture Forming (NTF), Cardinal’s patented process that is designed to cook burgers to a safe 160 degrees F without drying them out, has been racking up awards from retail and foodservice customers. And the company’s proprietary Advanced Protein Portioning (APP), a high-speed, high-volume line of combined technologies that portions and cooks animal proteins in sealed packages, is offering them a look into the future of meat processing’s culinary possibilities. With these tools in his belt, Cator’s confidence is obvious. He’ll even admit to sounding arrogant when he says he doesn’t quite know how competitors will catch up, but he’s honestly unsure. He is sure, however, that intensifying consumer demands for safe and minimally processed products is going to require the same kind of thinking and capital investment in new technologies. Cator sat down recently with Meatingplace to discuss the future of the meat industry, and why it’s not OK to tell consumers “just cook it.”

    Meatingplace: You tell it like it is. What’s the state of the meat processing industry today?

    CATOR: The industry, particularly in the U.S., is up for a big awakening. I think that over the next 10 years there will be a dramatic change. When you look at the technologies internationally ... there are facilities that have proven out absolutely new ways to do things — and yet we have an industry that is still working with a lot of old technology. Some of the biggest players are so vested in those capabilities that it’s really tough for them to make that kind of change. But ... based on large consumer trends, they’re just going to have to.

    Meatingplace: What kinds of consumer trends?

    CATOR: The biggest trend is transparency. Even if a plant has all the safety elements, but it’s not perceived that way and ‘Joe Public’ couldn’t say, ‘I’m OK with that,’ then the reality is it isn’t going to work and things have to change. The very real thing is that equipment, capabilities and processes have moved so far forward, and there are operations that just haven’t embraced them because they’re busy f lling product with the capabilities they have. A lot of industry leaders today aren’t investing in new capabilities out there. If it’s slaughter which is one of the places that is going to see a huge change, the reality is that means redesigning massive plants.With the amount of money that’s out there from people who want to invest in the food industry, I think there are going to be some aggressive plays to reinvent and just start from scratch on how things are processed. And I think that anybody who is going to make that kind of investment isn’t going to do it based on one guy’s thoughts … they’re going to find the best in everything from around the world and deploy that.

    Meatingplace: That sounds exciting.

    CATOR: It is exciting. I think it’s going to be scary for a lot of players, and I think it’s going to surprise the hell out of some. At Cardinal, we have a[n] innovative approach to a lot of different technologies… instead of competing with what’s there today, it’s how do you reinvent that deliverable and, by the way, at a better cost. And technology advancements, whether in equipment, raw materials or ingredients, have come so far we are now doing things that weren’t possible before, and so there really is no competition because nobody else has it. But when you break into absolutely new ways, even when you bring customers something at a lower cost, they’re confused. That’s a dynamic that the industry is going to have to go through. At Cardinal we’re trying to lead that.

    Meatingplace: What are your top challenges today?

    CATOR: We have taken sealed environment cook technologies to another level, which has allowed for better-eating products that are more repeatable, don't have to have preservatives and can be done fresh. We’re creating products that give the consumer something they feel is, believe is and authentically is less processed. Our biggest challenge is getting people educated ....On the restaurant end, there are lot of organizations that invested in a lot of equipment that chefs needed in order to do R&D. The reality is, on scale, there’s a point where those restaurants shouldn’t be doing that at all; it should be done at the processor level. Now that the processors are catching up with the technologies, one of the hardest things is getting the restaurant operations to understand that they don’t need all that capital anymore.

    Meatingplace: What’s technology’s role in advancing your company’s success?

    CATOR: We are a manufacturer first. And there’s no doubt that unique technologies are core to Cardinal, and always looking for what’s next before it’s even needed is key. In that, usually I find it’s not so much a single technology; it’s finding different technologies that you combine to be unique for meat processing for our particular customer needs. I don’t like an approach that’s not layered. If it doesn’t have multiple advantages, somebody’s just going to go better-eating products that are more repeatable, don't have to have preservatives and can be done fresh. We’re creating products that give the consumer something they feel is, believe is and authentically is less processed. Our biggest challenge is getting people educated. On the restaurant end, there are lot of organizations that invested in a lot of equipment that chefs needed in order to do R&D. The reality is, on scale, there’s a point where those restaurants shouldn’t be doing that at all; it should be done at the processor level. Now that the processors are catching up with the technologies, one of the hardest things is getting the restaurant operations to understand that they don’t need all that capital anymore.

     The American consumer and the industry still says it’s OK to sell somebody a product not cooked to [160 degrees F] as long as you put a disclaimer on it. That’s completely illogical.

    Meatingplace: What would be an example of such an effort?

    CATOR: We took our unique manner of how we make a burger, Natural Texture Forming, and we’ve layered in technologies — for instance, stuffing — that today nobody else can do. If someone wants to catch up, they have to learn how to get the technology. Then they have to learn all the nuances related to how to deploy it. Then on top of that we layered in this stuffing capability we’ve patented. The next evolution of that is maybe sealed-environment cooking on those same items. Now, that’s a multi-layered approach. The customers we’re doing that with, who are prepared to take that kind of risk because it’s something different, are seeing huge returns from it. They’re coming back to us and just saying, ‘OK. How do we do more?’

    Meatingplace: Can you explain more about the Natural Texture Forming burger and its food safety benefits?

    CATOR: When we brought Natural Texture Forming burgers to the U.S., I had a major mission behind that. The American consumer and the industry still says it’s OK to sell somebody a product not cooked to [160 degrees F] as long as you put a disclaimer on it. That’s completely illogical. The CDC’s been saying for years that this is wrong; the fact that somebody can cover their butt by saying, ‘Hey, eating this could kill ya’ is just wrong. What I wanted to do was find a technology that would cook to 160 degrees and had all the eating qualities that consumers are after. … So we’re truly solving a problem and getting down to the reality behind it, because I think those things are going to catch up to the industry. We’re going to get that communication piece out in a meaningful way because restaurants don’t want recalls anymore, nor do retailers.

    Meatingplace: In Canada a rift has opened up between inspectors and the federal government over the level of their employment and of safety in new government protocols. What’s your view on this issue?

    CATOR: I can tell you that at our plants we’re not seeing a negative ramification while that’s going on, primarily because we’re taking accountability beyond the federal regulations. I think that’s part of what the industry trend is, that the minimum standard should be the government to protect the public. But I think that processes and systems that go above and beyond are being deployed, and I think those will be the successful companies that won’t need a policeman. As that rolls out, there’s a huge problem because there’s a bunch of people who are counting on their jobs being the policeman. I do believe that will change. And it won’t be limited to Canada. It’s going to happen around the world. I think the government’s role in food safety will change dramatically. The interplay you’re hearing now is the start of that.

    Meatingplace: What do you think the industry and the federal inspection regulators have learned from the historic XL Foods recall?

    I think the industry learned a lot. In fairness to the government, the government has a role and in many ways was asked to go beyond its role, in my mind. XL gave very little information at that time, so the answers weren’t there for the public on a progressive basis. When there’s a void like that, the government has to react and those aren’t areas in which they get a lot of experience. The government’s collaborative work with the industry since has been huge. They’re going around to ask what we could do differently, how do we learn from it and looking at their international counterparts and talking to them, which didn’t used to happen. I think the government learned a major lesson as far as reaching out, and I do believe the Canadian government is being progressive in that. I do hope what meat plants have learned is you can’t hide or be silent on it. You will disappear. You will evaporate.

    Meatingplace: How have you handled food safety scares?

    CATOR: We had a recall a few years ago. We handled it up front in the public space. I personally took every consumer call and did not hide from any element of it. At the end of that, for the first time in North America in meat processing, at least that I’m aware of, there were no corrective actions issued to our plant. Normally you can’t even operate after a recall without saying what you’re doing to correct the problem. But everything that could be done in our operation was being done. That’s pretty powerful, first for the government to admit that publicly. Then from that, as an industry, we learned that we can’t just look at our own plant. You have to be aggressive on both ends,
    on what’s coming in and how consumers and restaurants are handling product on the other
    side. I can say our customers have rewarded us with more business.

    Meatingplace: What about Target’s failure in Canada? What do you think the business lesson was there?

    CATOR: The business lesson I think that gets repeated, and it’s not just Target, is you can’t take an American approach and drop it into Canada and expect that it will work. You have to respect the fact that consumers are different in different places, and you really want to do your homework on what your brand stands for, the fundamentals around it and what you need to adapt depending on cultures or countries you’re going into. That doesn’t mean American brands can’t do incredibly well here in Canada, but if they expect ‘it works here, so it will work there’ without any variations, that’s wrong.

    Meatingplace: You were a proud NAMP guy. Now you’re a NAMI guy. What are your thoughts on the consolidation of trade groups so far?

    CATOR: It’s early. I think there’ve been some great things that have come with it, particularly the consolidation of talent so that meat guys in different associations are now able to share thoughts instead of competing. I think that consolidation of talent is brilliant. I think there will be some good things that will come from that. My fears relate to two things. A core principle is that every NAMI member has an equal voice, no matter the size of the company. Sticking to that is difficult. The fact is somebody with a lot more constituents normally has a lot more say. If NAMI’s to be successful, it’s going to have to stick to the fact that regardless of size each member has equal say and then not losing the educational aspect. Sometimes it’s easy for a trade association to get involved in large, government initiatives — and yes, a trade association can play a big part in that — but I think there’s a huge educational part that a trade association can do that allows small medium and big companies to learn. And with that dynamic I’m talking about, the industry changing to where all of a sudden the biggest guy out there with old technologies isn’t the player, trade associations need to be aware of that and facilitate shared learning where it’s applicable on an even basis.

  • Meatingplace Blogs: James Marsden

    "Just Cook It": It's still not the answer  By James Marsden

    (The views and opinions expressed in this blog are strictly those of the author.)

    It’s been almost 5 years since I wrote the blog “Why just cook it doesn’t cut it”.  Two weeks ago I wrote about the possibility of pasteurizing raw meat products. As usual, much of the discussion around the blog focused on the issue of consumer cooking. One comment said “not one single bite of properly cooked and handled ground beef has ever sickened anyone either. Cross contamination by nasty folks is a concern on all meats and foods and totally preventable”.

    Clearly, a number of readers of this blog and possibly others in the meat industry do not accept my argument that the meat industry should be committed to reduce pathogens in raw meat and poultry products to the lowest levels possible.

    There are many reasons why this is of critical importance to the meat industry and to the food industry as a whole. The first and most obvious is that the food industry has a moral responsibility to reduce the risk of foodborne disease to the lowest possible level. Of course, I recognize that for foods processed without a pasteurization step, the risks may never be zero. Still the risks must be minimized as much as technology and consumer acceptance allows.

    Another reason is that for many food products, it’s the law. The presence of some pathogens in Ready-to-Eat products and even a few raw products constitutes adulteration. To underscore this point, the U.S. government responded to some recent foodborne disease outbreaks with criminal prosecution of the responsible individuals.

    Regarding the specific issue of E. coli O157:H7 and other pathogenic STEC’s, I think it may be a good time to repeat the reasons stated in my blog from 5 years ago. They all still apply today.

    1.E. coli O157:H7 is a unique pathogen. The levels of this organism necessary to cause infection are very low.
    2. The severity of the disease E. coli O157:H7 can cause, especially in children is devastating.
    3. In many cases, parents order hamburgers for their children and rely on restaurants to cook them properly. In restaurants, parents really have no control over whether the hamburgers they order are sufficiently cooked to eliminate possible contamination from E. coli O157:H7.
    4. If consumers unknowingly bring this pathogen into their kitchens, it is almost impossible to avoid cross contamination. Even the smallest amount of contamination on a food that is not cooked can cause illness. Many of the reported cases of E. coli O157:H7 have involved ground beef that was clearly cooked at times and temperatures sufficient to inactivate E. coli O157:H7. Some other vector, i.e. cross contamination was probably involved.
    5. Even if consumers attempt to use thermometers to measure cooking temperature, it is difficult to properly measure the internal temperature of hamburger patties. They would have to use an accurate thermometer and place the probe exactly into the center of the patty. In addition, the inactivation of E. coli O157:H7 is dependent on cooking time and temperature. For example, if they cook to 155 degrees F, they should hold that temperature for 16 seconds. It is not realistic to expect that consumers, many of which are children, will scientifically measure the internal temperature of hamburgers.
    6.The way ground beef is packaged, it is virtually impossible to remove it from packages or chubs and make patties without spreading contamination if it is present.
    7.Sometimes ground beef appears to be cooked when it really isn’t. There is a phenomenon called “premature browning” that can make ground beef appear to be fully cooked when in fact it is undercooked.
    8.E. coli O157:H7 may be present in beef products other than ground beef. For example, in non-intact beef products, including tenderized steaks that are not always cooked to temperatures required for inactivation.
    9.There have been many cases and outbreaks of E. coli O157:H7 associated with foods that are not cooked (i.e. fresh cut produce).
    10.  As Senator Patrick Leahy said after the 1993 Jack-in-the-Box outbreak – “The death penalty is too strong a punishment for undercooking a hamburger.” He was right; consumers will make mistakes. There needs to be a margin of safety so that undercooking does not result in disease or death.

    I once spoke with a mother who lost a child to an E. coli O157:H7 infection in the early 1990s.  The infection was caused by ground beef that was prepared and cooked as meatballs in sauce. There was no doubt that the product had been fully cooked. It’s impossible to know what happened – probably some sort of cross contamination. Personally, I don’t believe what happened was her fault. The tragedy occurred because of contaminated ground beef.

    Since 1993, the beef industry has been fully committed to lowering the risk of pathogenic strains of E. coli in beef products. I like to think that the beef products being produced today would be far less likely to cause the tragedy that this mother experienced.

    Let me say again, the food industry has a moral responsibility to produce the safest possible food. That’s the end of the story – period. It’s a fundamental truth.

    As far as I’m concerned, the debate is over.

  • Meatingplace Blog

    Food (Safety) Fight By Richard Raymond
    Dr. Richard Raymond is the former undersecretary of agriculture for food safety.

    (The views and opinions expressed in this blog are strictly those of the author.)     

    On July 14, 2015, Meatingplace posted a high level analysis of the CDC’s latest report in its August edition of its Emerging Infectious Diseases journal, Volume 21, No. 8.

    The report covers the period of 2003-2012 and looks at 390 outbreaks that cause 4,928 illnesses, 1,272 hospitalizations, 299 HUS cases and 33 deaths.

    Of the 390 outbreaks (defined as 2 or more persons having culture-confirmed E. coli O157:H7 infections that were linked) 255 (65%) had transmission through food, 39 (10%) were person-to-person contact, 39 (10%) were related to contact with animals, and 15 (4%) had water contact. Forty two were from unknown origin.

    As expected, the person-to-person contact was limited to day cares and all involved persons under five years of age; but unexpectedly, almost all water contact cases were in states bordering the Mississippi River.

    Another interesting finding was that the illnesses were more severe, and led to more hospitalizations, when associated with foods eaten raw, like the lettuce, nuts and spinach categories.

    While beef was linked in 78 outbreaks (20% of the total) and leafy vegetables were associated with 29 outbreaks (7%), hospitalizations for the leafy vegetables totaled 321 (35%) compared to hospitalizations for beef related outbreaks of just 316 (28%).

    Of just the foodborne disease outbreaks, beef was implicated in 78 outbreaks (55%) while leafy vegetables were linked in 29 outbreaks (21%).

    Of the types of beef (no surprise here) ground beef was associated with 54 outbreaks, 69% of all beef associated outbreaks. But steaks surprised me at 10 outbreaks for 14% of the beef total. 

    In all, 16 outbreaks were linked to dairy, with 13 (81%) being tied to unpasteurized milk and the other 3 to cheese made from unpasteurized milk. All totally preventable.

    The saddest fact associated with the dairy linked outbreaks is that more than 25% of the illnesses were in children less than five years of age. What are their parents thinking?

    Dairy used to represent 25% of all foodborne illnesses, but dropped to less than 1% with the advent of pasteurization. Now with the raw milk crazies it is back up to 5%.

    Some good news for my readers around beef:

     The percentage of foodborne E coli illnesses caused by beef dropped from 47% to 31%, and the percentage linked to ground beef decreased from 41% to 21%.

    Now for a Douglas Craven moment:

    For food related outbreaks, 90 were linked to restaurants and institutions, while only 60 were linked to good old home cooking.

    The report was silent on this last factoid, and as long as I am asked how I want my hamburger cooked, I will continue to rant and rave and not eat burgers in restaurants unless it is a turkey, bison or vegetarian burger.

    We are not in total control of our own destiny, and we are beholden to others to properly handle and cook our food.


  • The National Provisioner

    It's Everybody Else by John Vatri

    Recently, I attended an association meeting where a staff member was sharing an experience she had at a consumer group meeting she attended.

    She described how one of the presenters was exceptionally critical of the meat industry—targeting specific companies, and reporting how certain practices and procedures were perceived negatively by consumer groups.    

    She determined that his attack was motivated by the belief of consumer groups that these companies were the large "evil" corporations. Didn’t the presenter know these companies started out as humble mom and pop shops? Is it fair that these companies are targeted simply because they found a way against all odds to be successful and grow into the billions? As I sat and listened, I was struck by the fact that like most human beings, companies and corporations first reaction to a perceived criticism is to defend what we do instead of carefully listening to feedback.

    Perhaps consumers aren’t all unfairly attacking our success; instead maybe they’re trying to tell us that as we have grown as an industry, we haven’t been the best custodians.

    Perhaps in our pursuit to make a profit and increase share price we have not always done the best job in the way we have treated animals, in the way we have treated our employees and in the way we have produced our products.

    Perhaps we were not listening carefully enough when we decided to feed animals growth hormones. 

    Perhaps we did not do all we could have done to prevent outbreaks of pathogenic bacteria.

    Perhaps profit got the best of us as we decided what we could pay our employees.

    We have just come together and made history as becoming one large association, that can now speak with one common voice; perhaps it would also behoove us as a united industry to listen as one. In the final analysis we are all part of the same consumer family, part of the the public and, as such, part of those same consumer groups that are providing feedback.

    Indeed they are not our foes; they are our allies, a powerful voice that can (if listened to) allow us all to be better custodians of our animals, our employees and our products.

    As the great Winston Churchill said, "The only thing worse than fighting with your allies is having to fight without them."


  • Industry News

    I recently attended an E. coli conference. As always, it was a great opportunity to find out how North Americans are doing in our collective fight against Pathogenic bacteria, E coli O157:H7.


    One session that was particularly interesting provided the audience with the circumstances of an actual recall. We were all provided all of the information the company had at the time of the recall, and asked to ascertain whether we could have avoided the recall.


    The one recall that was most interesting involved a burger processor. This processor tested both their raw materials and finished product. However based on a routine FSIS test, they were faced with recalling the affected product out of the marketplace.


    What was surprising to me was the overwhelming opinion of the audience and the expert panel. They believed the company should have tested more. This did not make sense to me given the testing the company had performed was extensive. In all cases the company’s test results were negative and yet the FSIS test result was positive. What does that tell us? Which test results do we believe? 


    Considering E. coli O157:H7 does not exist uniformly in a batch of meat, it is more than plausible to get both a negative and a positive result from the same batch of ground beef.


    In hindsight, the expert panel concluded the answer was not more testing. Instead the company should have worked together with FSIS to control their lots. Whenever a sample is drawn by FSIS the company should hold all associated finished product connected with that sample until the result is known.


    This example demonstrates that testing is only part of a good food safety system.  It provides data regarding the efficacy of the upstream interventions in slaughter. However a negative result does not mean that the entire associated underlying product drawn from the sample is safe.


    In fact HACCP principles tell us that instead of testing more, we must consider what hazards are likely to occur - and then determine if a process step can be put in place to reduce or eliminate the hazard.


    In cases of E. coli O157:H7, instead of expending more  dollars on testing we should instead spend our collective dollars on: clean living conditions to ensure clean animals go to slaughter, proper dehiding procedures, multiple step microbiological interventions, proper handling, temperature control during processing and, finally, education to cook ground product to an internal temperature of 160F.


    In the future we may as an industry and government decide to end this madness of spending our resources on testing more and instead use these dollars to improve our processes.


    Who knows... if we do we may not have any more example recalls to discuss.

  • Industry News

    Grand time for Grinds

    Richard Mitchell - May 11, 2015

    New processing technologies are designed to make grinds more tasty, attractive and safe.

    It is a grand time to merchandise grinds.

    Such factors as the versatility of ground meats in a wide range of recipes, the increasing popularity of ethnic meals that leverage ground meats and the typically lower prices of grinds compared with other protein cuts is bolstering consumer interest in the proteins.

    Ground beef is by far the largest contributor to retail beef dollar sales, generating $8.4 billion in 2013, compared with $4.4 billion for loins, the next largest sales category, according to the Power of Meat 2014 report, published by the Washington, D.C.-based American Meat Institute (which merged this year with the North American Meat Institute) and the Arlington, Va.-based Food Marketing Institute.

    The report also found that consumers were making 12 percent more international or ethnic dishes compared with five years earlier.

    That strong activity is helping to trigger the launch of advanced grinding technologies. Newer designs are intended to enable processors to have more efficient and effective grinding operations that produce higher quality and more visually appealing products, while enhancing food safety.

    “The grinding industry is being redefined,” says Brent Cator, president and owner of Cardinal Meat Specialists Ltd., a Mississauga, Ont.-based processor. “There are huge advancements in the technologies that are allowing people to get minimally processed products with the best flavor attributes and which provide the best eating experience.”

    Among the newer elements, says Brett Chambers, operations lead, ground beef and finely textured beef, for Wichita, Kan.-based Cargill Inc., are improvements to X-ray and vision technologies to reduce foreign materials in grinds, and technologies that more accurately determine lean content.

    “There is a reduction in quality concerns from foreign material and/or bone,” he says, adding that enhancements also are resulting in better quality experiences during cooking, including improved flavor or texture.

    In addition, newer designs enable processors to reduce or eliminate pressure on grinds during high-speed processing, which helps diminish meat mushiness, Cator says. Producers are enhancing grind quality through functions that enable more efficient removal of dense bone chips, connective tissues and gristle, he notes.

    Search far and wide

    Processors can pinpoint the most advantageous technologies and grinding techniques by evaluating the equipment being developed by both domestic and international vendors, and the efforts of other processors.

    “Very few operators take the time to learn what is going on in foreign markets and then finding a way to ‘North Americanize’ it,” Cator says. He notes European companies are devising many of the newer grinding technologies, some of which are improving food safety by giving users easier access to crevices and other hard-to-clean areas, and enabling heat to transfer evenly through grinds during cooking.

    Processors can improve their grinding operations by combining progressive technologies with strong operating procedures, such as ensuring meats remain at optimal temperatures and performing ongoing equipment maintenance, including blade sharpening.

    “Processors’ capabilities dramatically increase when they combine best practices with newer technologies,” Cator says. “Those who have not invested in the equipment and processes will become redundant fast.”

    Major maintenance focus

    Operating procedures also should include the precise alignment of all machine components for maximum efficiency, says Joseph Cordray, extension meat specialist in the Department of Animal Science at Iowa State University in Ames. (Editor’s Note: See Dr. Cordray’s article on sausages on page 63 in this issue.)

    “The biggest grinding mistake processors make is not having their equipment set up correctly,” he says. “It’s an ongoing issue along with equipment maintenance.”

    Dull knives and plates, and well as inappropriate knife and plate combinations, can result in poor meat texture and a dull appearance, says Robert Delmore, a professor in the department of animal sciences at Colorado State University in Fort Collins.

    “Having blades and knives remain sharp is 100 percent critical,” he says. “Large and small processors must work with their equipment suppliers to guarantee that they are sharpening the equipment properly, resurfacing plates and determining the plate sizes that work best for specific products.”

    Technology enhancements also are intended to prevent the overworking of meat. Designs that apply less force during grinding helps to retain natural textures and flavors, says Mark Gwin, research and development manager for value-added products at Certified Angus Beef LLC, in Wooster, Ohio.

    He notes that avoiding overworking, while ensuring meats are kept at the best processing temperatures, are major grinding challenges.

    “It is essential that there is constant vigilance,” Gwin says. “The product must be kept as cold as possible, which newer technologies help to ensure.”

    Delmore agrees, noting processors should grind meats at temperatures of between 28 and 32 degrees Fahrenheit.

    Warmer proteins, particularly those with temperatures of 40 degrees Fahrenheit or greater, create added friction during processing. The subsequent overworking can lead to sausage with a rubbery texture; grinds with a smeared, rather than a bright and clear, appearance; and a shorter product shelf life, he says.

    Mushy grinds, instead of particles with a distinct and meatier appearance, also result from improperly installed grinder plates or worn plates and knives, Cordray says, adding that the additional friction can lead to a 10-degree rise in temperatures during grinding.

    Next stage: safety

    While newer technologies are helping to improve the quality and appearance of grinds, future equipment will also likely address emerging food safety issues, analysts say.

    “The importance of food safety won’t go away,” says Christy Bratcher, associate professor of animal science at Auburn University, in Auburn, Ala. “Regulation and testing is always a hurdle grinding facilities will have to jump through.”

    In addition to testing for E. coli O17:H7, she says technologies also will increasingly focus on Salmonellacontrol.

    “Emerging pathogens will keep changing,” Bratcher says. “There is a need to keep focusing on interventions to be sure we kill all bacteria.”

    Managing Salmonellawill become an increasingly greater challenge because the pathogen can situate in the lymphatic system of cattle, making it difficult to access, says Keith Belk, a professor in the Center for Meat Safety and Quality in the Department of Animal Sciences at Colorado State University.

    “Calf producers will need to figure out how to prevent Salmonellafrom harboring in the lymph area,” Belk says. “Once it gets to the grind portion, there is not much you can do about it.”

    In addition to a food-safety focus, future designs also will address lean points, texture and quality verifications, Cargill’s Chambers notes.

    With grinds front and center in the meat-merchandising sector, the motivation for technology developers to create cutting-edge designs remains robust.




    (The views and opinions expressed in this blog are strictly those of the author.)

    I’m at a point in life where there isn’t much that shocks me. I have to say however, that a story reported last week in Food Safety News took me completely by surprise.  

     An article by James Andrews reported that a 2014 outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 was linked to hamburgers that had been deliberately undercooked 

    The outbreak involved at least 12 cases and resulted in the recall of 1.8 million pounds of ground beef produced by Wolverine Packing Company.  Food Safety News conducted an investigation of the events leading to the outbreak and determined that it was caused by ground beef burgers cooked to a rare or medium rare degree of doneness. During the recall, public health agencies reminded consumers that the recommended cooking temperature for ground beef is 160 degrees F.

    OK – so far nothing that unusual. Sometimes things go wrong in restaurant kitchens and bad things result.

    But that’s not what happened here – It wasn’t revealed at the time, but Food Safety News discovered that many of the cases were directly linked to a burger chain in Ohio that specializes in undercooked hamburgers. The name of the restaurants is Bar 145 – which refers to what they consider to be the perfect temperature for medium rare hamburgers – 145 degrees F.

     It’s like a car manufacturer that decides to make seat belts and air bags an option.  Not a great idea.

    The whole thing raises a number of questions – How can this happen after 20+ years of public health warnings on the dangers of undercooked ground beef? Is this a common occurrence in restaurants and are large numbers of consumers ignoring warnings and ordering undercooked hamburgers? If this is the case, then a lot of thought needs to be given to developing alternate guidance for restaurants that prepare rare and medium rare burgers.

    Just providing consumers with vaguely worded warnings about the risks of eating undercooked ground beef doesn’t cut it. If restaurants offer their customers the choice to order rare or medium rare hamburgers, they need to know exactly how they should be cooked to inactivate pathogenic strains of E. coli.

    A journal article by Smith et al. that reported D-values  for lean and fat ground beef provides the inputs needed to design a safe cooking process for medium rare hamburgers .  (In microbiology, D-value refers to the decimal reduction time required at a certain temperature to kill 90% of the organisms being studied).  

    Smith’s research makes it easy to determine the D-values for E. coli O157:H7 at the temperature preferred by Bar 145 (145 degrees F or 63 degrees C). They are 0.16 minute for lean ground beef (4.8% fat) and 0.18 minute for fat ground beef (19.1% fat). That translates to a holding time of 9.6 – 10.8 seconds at a temperature of 145 degrees F in order to achieve a one log reduction in E. coli O157:H7.

    Since a minimum of a 5 log reduction is required to assure the safety of cooked ground beef, the required holding time at 145 degrees F would be almost a full minute.  This certainly wouldn’t be impossible to achieve, but restaurants would have to use calibrated thermometers and have a means to measure holding time when a target temperature is achieved.

    It would also require that they understand the concept of integrated lethality and design their cooking procedures to assure they get it right every time.

    Of course, this is the reason for the 160 degree F recommendation. When this temperature is achieved, the need for long holding times goes away. It makes cooking safe hamburgers easy for everyone.

    However, if the 160 degree F recommendation is being largely ignored, maybe it’s time for FDA and FSIS to develop detailed guidance for restaurants like Bar 145.

    Just two more thoughts– first, if you use a thermometer to measure a 160 degree cooking temperature for hamburgers, you may be surprised to see that they are not well done. They are still juicy and palatable. It really is a good practice and good advice for consumers and for restaurants.  It would have prevented the Wolverine outbreak and recall.

    Finally, congratulations to James Andrews and Food Safety News on an excellent and thought provoking article!

  • Industry News

    By Eric Mittenthal

    (The views and opinions expressed in this blog are strictly those of the author.)

    The issue of antibiotics in livestock and poultry production is a common one in this space, highlighted recently by posts from Chef Michael Formichella and Richard Raymond. Chef Formichella’s blog was particularly interesting to me as it reiterated the importance of communicating about antibiotics in a way that is factual and not confusing for consumers. As I noted in my comment on that post, it is one of the most significant challenges we face in the industry today. A new survey conducted by Harris Poll for the American Meat Institute bears this out. Only four in ten Americans (41 percent) correctly answered “health professionals over-prescribing to people” is the greatest contributing factor to human antibiotic resistance according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Four in ten consumers (39 percent) also think that unsafe levels of antibiotics are commonly present in the meat and poultry products found at the grocery store, though government data show that violative antibiotic residues in meat and poultry are virtually non-existent. In 2011, USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service screened meat and poultry for 128 chemicals, and 99 percent of the tested carcasses were free of all of them. This consumer survey data is similar to findings from Midan Marketing presented at the International Production and Processing Expo earlier this year, which found when presented the statement, “By the time fresh meat is sold at the grocery store, there are no longer any antibiotics in it,” only 14 percent of consumers knew this was a true statement. AMI is tackling confusion over the antibiotics issue in a few ways. First, we want to provide facts and science in an understandable, sharable way for the industry and consumers to use. To do that we’ve created a new referenced brochure called Antibiotics in Livestock & Poultry Production: Sort Fact From Fiction. The brochure has been reviewed by several academic experts, answers many of the common questions about antibiotic use in livestock and poultry production and addresses the myths as well. This brochure may be downloaded from or requested via mail by sending a self-addressed 4” x 5.5” envelope with .69 postage to Antibiotic Brochure, 1150 Connecticut Ave, NW, Suite 1200, Washington, DC, 20036. AN HTML friendly version is forthcoming as well. We know, however, that facts and science are only part of the equation on antibiotic use. Words matter too, and far too often we see the issue being described inaccurately both in the media and within the industry. The primary example is use of the phrase “antibiotics in meat” or conversely “antibiotic-free meat.” Antibiotics, of course, are not used in meat, but in animals, and describing the issue in this way only leads to confusion over the difference between resistance and residues. To try to counter some of the confusion, AMI created a Media Mythcrusher which addresses the top ten common myths we see in reporting on the issue. We will share it extensively with journalists, but it is up to all of us in the industry not to perpetuate these myths as well. One of the other key findings in our survey was that 39 percent of consumers weren’t sure if unsafe levels of antibiotics are commonly present in the meat and poultry found at the grocery store. This shows we have an opportunity to better educate people on this complex and confusing topic. AMI is committed to this effort and we hope our resources will be used industry-wide to help overcome the common misperceptions of the antibiotics issue.

  • Industry News

    New ’Cardinal’ Rule

    By Sam Gazdziak March 3, 2014


    Despite its standing as one of Canada’s top meat processors and one of the most technologically savvy processors in North America, Cardinal Meat Specialists has never rested on its laurels. If anything, the Brampton, Ontario-based processor has pushed even harder, adding on new capabilities and investing in — or developing — new technologies. As a result, the company feels it is perfectly placed to capitalize on the latest industry trends. “With economies being what they are, people are looking for cost-effective products, but they’re not willing to trade down to a TV dinner,” says Cardinal president Brent Cator. “We’ve seen restaurants and retailers looking for more custom products. They’re looking for fresh, and they’re looking for products that don’t have additives or preservatives — and the products have to taste great. “What we have been able to do, by combining a lot of European and North American technologies,” Cator adds, “is come up with products that have a 100-plus day shelf life without having additives or preservatives — minimally processed products produced in a very cost-effective manner.” In an effort to sum up its capabilities in a simple phrase, the company has adopted the slogan “You can with Cardinal.” Cator explains that customers may not be able to find or develop what they need, whether it is a retail item or a foodservice item that can be prepared consistently over a number of locations. Thanks to the company’s new advanced protein portioning (APP) technology, Cardinal is able to produce a number of products that can be processed at a high volume while still being customized to the individual customer’s needs. Technological innovation is nothing new to Cardinal Meats. Its Natural Texture Forming process with burger patties led to the introduction of the Revolution Burger in the United States. That burger won new-product awards from both The National Provisioner and Sysco. The company is also known for its kettle-cooked products. Those two arenas have been combined with the APP technology, resulting in a high-speed, sealed-environment, fully cooked line, capable of producing anything from sausages and pulled pork to whole-muscle items. The company’s drive toward new and improved technology has led to a new line of stuffed burgers. To date, the burgers in the marketplace that were considered “stuffed” were inclusion products, where items like cheese or bacon were mixed into the ground beef instead of having a true center-stuffed burger. The challenge of a truly center-stuffed burger is that the ingredient in the center of the patty may get super-heated during preparation. That heat is not a concern for a product like a chicken kiev that’s meant to be cut into with a knife, but a hamburger with a heated center has been a safety risk until now. “If you have some melted cheese or sauce, then you’ve got this hot pocket in the center, and you’re going to burn people with that burger,” Cator explains. “Because of the technologies that we’re employing, we can actually create that product without that risk. That’s a huge innovation.” Cardinal patented new technologies and built them in-house for the new stuffed burger capabilities. Its stuffed capabilities line is now limited only by its customers’ imaginations. Jalapeno and cheddar burgers, ham & Swiss chicken burgers and even surf & turf burgers with stuffed crab meat are all possibilities. Cardinal completed the expansion of itsBrampton facility in 2013 to accommodate the new APP technology, and it has worked to prove out the new products internally. Sausages produced through the combination of coextrusion and sealed-environment processes offer longer shelf lives and cost-efficient products. Fully cooked chicken breasts that are grill-marked and portioned offer cost efficiencies in both production and input of raw materials. “Instead of using a whole breast, there are ways to portion it into pieces,” Cator explains. “We’ve done that across beef, pork and poultry so far.” The first APP products to reach the marketplace will be fully cooked burgers for the foodservice sector. “We’re able to bring the advancements in fully cooked into the market at the same cost or better than you can buy a raw burger,” he says. “You’re not sacrificing the quality in the burger, and we’re locking in the food safety.” Customers are already interested in APP products in both cost and waste reduction. A restaurant may prepare 20 rotisserie chickens for dinner service, but it may only use 10. Cardinal can offer a fully cooked chicken that requires minutes to prepare, meaning less food is thrown out at the end of the day. Additionally, products like braised beef that were once bought in bulk for cost savings can now be ordered in portion-controlled quantities without an exorbitant price point. Along with all the new products, Cardinal has also beefed up its corporate infrastructure. Cator says that his primary company responsibilities lie in innovation and new capabilities to meet customer needs. He brought in Tony Tavares as chief operating officer to add depth to the senior management team. Tavares has a substantial background in meat processing, with experience at Canadian processors Maple Leaf Foods and Maple Lodge Farms. “Between his skills and some of what we’ve built up internally over the last year, we’re really set to come to market, and I feel really good about that,” Cator notes. “We have more team members, we have a greater sales breadth, and we have a lot of people charged up to help customers drive their profits.”

  • Industry News

    By Jane Gabbett Crazy Ideas

    Brampton, Ontario-based Cardinal Meat Specialists takes a two-pronged approach to innovation. The company also has a core R&D team of six, and maintains a “response to customer requests” project list and the “skunk works list.” “These are the projects that are not customer-driven, but definitely fit into a broad market trend and can be keyed off from capabilities we have,” explains President and CEO Brent Cator. “The origin of ‘skunk works’ is that we want to make roses, but right now the idea might stink a little bit.” This separate track of innovation makes room for the “crazy ideas,” he says. Cardinal’s approach to innovation, which includes weekly cross-functional team meetings, has already hit some home runs. The company adapted equipment used in Europe for other purposes to create its Natural Texture Forming process for making burgers with the texture its foodservice customers wanted. The looser, pebbly meat has been a hit with restaurant chefs who want the pride of preparation quality without the food safety risk of forming their own patties. In the works now at Cardinal is a line of burgers stuffed with fully cooked pulled pork, for which the company created its own process for the pork. Originally formulated to go into stuffed burgers, the pulled pork product is also finding its way into pizza topping, wraps, sandwiches and soups. Leveraging learning in one area into other products and other uses is a part of the innovation process that Cator says Cardinal has learned over time.

  • Industry News

    Imagine a world without love

    By John Vatri February 2014

    During a conversation with one of our suppliers of boneless beef last week I was asked whether we used “love” in any of our burgers. I said, “Love, what is love?” He went on to inform me that is how he referred to beef hearts. I asked why speak in code; why not just ask if I used hearts in my burger? He responded that in some cases customers do not want him to refer to them by name because of the negative perception customers may have if they knew they used hearts in their burgers. He continued, “I suppose given your response that you do use hearts your burgers”. I answered that in fact we did not use hearts or head and cheek meat in our burgers, yet not for fear of the possible negative perception by the public — in fact we believe beef hearts are a good lean source of protein. The reason we do not use hearts in any of our burgers is for food safety reasons. As most know we as an industry have made big strides and advances in the reduction of E. coli O157:H7 through multiple hurdle interventions employed to the surface of the carcass. The question has been: Given the biological hazard of E. coli O157:H7 in slaughter, is there a process step we can put in place to reduce or eliminate the hazard? Yes -- hot water/ steam pasteurization and antimicrobial sprays. Hot water and steam by far are the most effective next to prevention. (Prevention: that’s for another day). Proven through science, these interventions have been successful in reducing pathogenic bacteria in beef and hence have made our burgers safer. However most do not know that these hot water and steam interventions are only employed to the carcass ... making only those products derived from the carcass and destined for grinding safer. Other inputs like hearts and cheeks do not go through these carefully monitored interventions. Hearts and cheeks follow a far different path. During harvesting hearts fall onto the gut table, and prior to any antimicrobial spray are incised by government inspectors, which increases the surface of the heart and potentially trans locates dangerous bacteria from the surface of the heart to the center. It is for these reasons, combined with our own in-house test results on hearts that have led us to the conclusion that hearts have been the input responsible for the most recent burger recalls in Canada. Given the old adage “You cannot not know what you already know” it’s not enough for us to stop at just removing these riskier inputs from our burgers. We are also advocating governments and industry disallow hearts and cheeks from being allowed in ground products, period, while working with industry, the CFIA and food scientists to develop heat pasteurization interventions that can be successfully deployed on these inputs. Who would have thought that a world without love could be a much safer place?

  • Industry News

    Burger Revolution By Erica Shaffer January 23, 2014 Foodservice operators spent much of 2013 in search of a better burger eating experience and for good reason – demand for burgers is high among consumers, especially in the United States. In its “The Burger Consumer Trend Report”, Chicago-based Technomic Inc. reports that 68 percent of consumers said they eat burgers weekly or more often with cravings driving these frequent purchases. More foodservice operators are emphasizing better burgers on their menus because the item is a good lower-price alternative to other meat products, Technomic notes. So, while demand for burgers isn’t about to subside any time soon, foodservice operators are looking to differentiate themselves with offerings such as all-natural minimally processed meat products. It’s the maverick foodservice operators willing to take risks that Cardinal Meat Specialists Ltd. hopes to attract to its latest innovation in ground beef production. Finding the right grind Cardinal Meat, a family owned processor based in Mississauga, Ontario, has been a key player in Canada’s meat industry for 80 years. It began producing fully cooked meat products and hamburgers for the Canadian market in 1966. Since its inception, the company has evolved from a local butchering operation to an innovator in ground beef production through research and development that has produced leading-edge grinding and forming technology. Now, Cardinal Meat is working to crack the United States foodservice market using the products of that R&D effort: natural texture forming and the Revolution Burger. “When we were looking to enter the American market, we thought the best entry was with the natural texture forming. It brings attributes that restaurateurs have been asking for: minimally processed, faster cooking for quicker table turns, very easy to adapt, yet innovative,” says Brent Cator, Cardinal Meat’s CEO. Ground beef is the top-selling beef item at retail and foodservice in the US, according to the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. NCBA says 7.5 billion tons of ground beef were sold in the past year in the US for retail and foodservice segments. Industry purchases of ground beef in 2012 accounted for 64 percent of dollar sales and 37 percent of pound sales, NCBA notes. Within the beef category last year, ground beef accounted for 40 percent of dollar sales and 49 percent of pound sales. Through its partnership with Sysco and Certified Angus Beef, Cardinal’s strategy is to earn market share by courting independent restaurants to expand distribution of the Revolution Burger and other Cardinal Meat products. “Sysco, having the broadest range in the US of independents, we have a strong partnership with them in Canada,” Cator says. “We combined that with Certified Angus Beef, which brings along the brand loyalty and the comfort that people have with the inputs and launched a product.” Equipment evolution The search for product innovation from equipment suppliers began five years ago, Cator says. Developing the technology to create the Revolution Burger took at least two years. Cardinal Meat launched the natural texture forming technology in Canada three years ago. “We did a lot of work internationally to see if there were any other ideas out there; combined some technologies out of Europe along with a lot of in-house technologies that were used for products, such as steak tartare, to be ground, small-run products and found a way to take the technologies to a spot where they could be commercialized for the North American market,” Cator says. “Marel has been a key innovation partner in a lot of the technology Cardinal Meat does; they certainly have a part to play in this,” he adds. What the company created was a better-burger experience from the back of the restaurant to the consumer eating the burger. Restaurants are able to turn tables faster because of the shorter time it takes to cook the burger to a safe temperature. The burger also cooks evenly with no cold spots, and the meat retains most of its natural flavour because less of it is burned off during the shorter cook time, according to Cator. The technology innovations allow Cardinal Meat to make a burger with virtually zero pressure, which maintains the integrity of the meat. Natural texture forming creates a loose and pebbly grind that maintains its texture even in a high-speed forming operation. Additionally, the weave of the burger stays together nicely because of the way Cardinal Meat is able to stream the meat out of the grinder. But one of the biggest selling points of the Revolution Burger is that it cooks in half the time of a traditional burger. Cator says that cooking a half-lb. premium burger in a restaurant, depending on the type of grill and heat source, may take 12 minutes or more to reach a safe temperature. Cook time for a Revolution Burger can be around six minutes. Food safety facet The food industry faces many challenges to ensure consumers and restaurants cook burgers to a safe temperature, Cator says. “The reality is, it’s one more step in the food-safety chain,” he says. “There have been efforts made throughout the whole meat industry to make meat safe, but cooking is part of it.” However, cooking ground beef to a safe temperature can result in a dry burger. The Revolution Burger allows cooks to reach the proper internal temperature and still maintain a moist and juicy burger. “If you ask people to cook a burger to a temperature where they don’t like the end result, they’re not going to do it,” Cator says. “It just allows people to serve a burger proudly, cooked to a safe temperature.” Food-safety benefits extend to the processing plant because the forming technology eliminates squeeze points in the equipment, which can occur when juices and fats are squeezed into different parts of the equipment, making it harder to clean. Cator says the natural texture forming equipment, because it’s under zero pressure, is easy to clean and that adds another food-safety element at the plant. Beyond beef In the Canadian market, Cardinal has applied its innovative forming technology to turkey, chicken and some game products. The company also has been able to combine what engineers have learned from the natural texture forming technology and apply it to stuffing capabilities. “In burgers, when you want to stuff a burger, put anything in the way of a cheese or sauce in the center, you have a very dangerous product because it heats up to a temperature in the middle, somebody bites into it and it squirts out,” Cator says. “So, the technologies that are available today, as much as people make them, have a high risk that way. In this case, by using the natural texture forming capability, we’ve eliminated that risk. How exactly, I’ll leave that to our trade secret.” Taking into account additions and subtractions from the company’s product line-up, Cardinal Meat currently produces roughly 160-170 different burger products for its customers. Restaurateurs are making more money with the Revolution Burger across the board, Cator says. For Cardinal Meat, it accounts for half of sales in the grind business. It’s also cannibalized most of the company’s businesses that previously existed. “Right now, it’s in its infancy in the US, but it’s coming,” he says. The core piece of Cardinal’s business has been earning its position with independent restaurants with innovative chefs who will take risks. In three to five years, Cator says he’d like to see the Revolution Burger in major chain restaurants and applying the technology to other species. “I don’t see limiting it in any manner to beef,” he says. “It’s proven to be very successful in poultry, and in a ground form, it can be any of the species that we do.” That means bison, turkey, chicken and beef today – and pork in the future. SIDEBAR — ADVANCED FORMING Cardinal Meat has created a new division called Advance Protein Portioning. It’s what Cardinal Meat’s CEO Brent Cator calls “the new app in town”. The new division will incorporate the natural texture forming technology and other technologies for sealed environment, individually portioned, fully cooked fresh product. It is a combination of technologies that is a $10 million operation installed over the past year capable of 50 million lbs. of production annually.

  • Industry News

    In the December 2013 issue of Canadian Packaging Magazine, Cardinal Meat Specialists Ltd. is described as a "Meat-processing pioneer blazing new trails in the cutthroat marketplace through inspired product innovation and highly skillful brand packaging execution." To read about all the trail blazing innovations happening at Cardinal Meats click the link below:

  • Industry News By James Marsden This Thanksgiving, I was responsible for cooking the turkey. I paid very close attention to safe food handling principles and tried my best to aseptically manage each step in the process. As I went through the various stages in preparing the bird for cooking, I thought about what would happen if the turkey was contaminated with Salmonella. As a food safety professional I should be far better prepared to prevent cross contamination than the average consumer. The first step was to remove the plastic packaging and then wash the raw bird. It was immediately clear that if the turkey and the exudate in the package contained Salmonella, it would be virtually impossible to prevent contaminating my hands, the sink area and probably most of the kitchen. Even careful hand washing and thorough cleaning of the wash area may not completely remove Salmonella. I wasn’t concerned about residual Salmonella on the turkey because I knew it would be fully cooked, but I recognized that bacteria from the bird could be all over the kitchen, including places that aren’t likely to be cleaned and sanitized. Some of the potential contamination sites I noticed included the handles on the refrigerator door, cabinet handles, salt and pepper shakers as well as the obvious utensils, cutting boards and counter tops. There has been a lot of debate on this and other Meatingplace blogs about the importance of cooking. Clearly, proper cooking is critical to consumer food safety. It’s exactly the reason that millions can safely enjoy turkey during the holiday season with few food safety related mishaps. I’m sure that millions are still eating Thanksgiving turkey leftovers that are safe because the cooking provides such an excellent safety net. However, it’s equally important that we recognize that cooking doesn’t fully address pathogen risks for the simple reason that a great deal of contamination can occur before raw meat or poultry product are cooked. I know if I can’t manage the pre-cook handling process without obvious opportunities for cross contamination, probably most consumers can’t manage it either. All of this is not exactly a revelation. It’s the reason the meat and poultry industry is striving to do everything possible to reduce the risk of pathogen contamination in all products, including raw turkey. With every year that goes by, the risks are decreased. That’s a very good thing for consumers and the sustainability of the meat and poultry industry.

  • Industry News

    Brent Cator, President of Cardinal Meat Specialists Ltd. was recently featured in an interview with Canadian Packaging magazine. Please click the link below to view the interview: Link to Video

  • Industry News

    Cardinal Meat Specialists wins Sysco Gold Innovation Award for Revolution Burger October 21, 2013 Cardinal Meat Specialists continues to set trends for innovation and food safety through its Revolution Burger, recently being honored with a Sysco USA Gold Level Product of the Year Award. Sysco recognized it as the most innovative product developed and launched during fiscal year 2013. The Natural Texture Forming process allows the Revolution Burger to be cooked at 160 degrees, ensuring a food safe product while keeping the burger moist and juicy when cooked to that temperature - in half the time of similar sized, traditional hand-formed burgers. "We feel it truly is revolutionary in many important ways, especially the cooking temperature and the benefits that go along with it," says Brent Cator, CEO at Cardinal. "It was an honor - and a strong validation point - when Cardinal was awarded the recognition from Sysco." Other "Revolutionary" features include: The faster cook time leads to faster speed of service. More even cooking due to the product texture. Each strand of meat is sealed, maintaining the flavour profile. The unique texture creates better "bite enjoyment." Minimal processing reflects a trending consumer request. "We’ve counted on our innovative food production methods since 1966 and that approach has not changed to this day," explains Cator. "We expect it from our employees on the factory floor and in the boardroom - it’s an important part of the Cardinal culture." The Natural Texture Forming process was developed by Cardinal, now distributed in the U.S. in partnership with Sysco and Certified Angus Beef, and is proprietary to the company. An important part of the process is the equipment incorporated into the making of the Revolution Burger, which is supplied by Marel, a leading global provider of advanced equipment and systems for the food processing industry. "It’s amazing how Cardinal has taken our base technology to new heights while they continually innovate on what is possible," says Theo Hoen, CEO at Marel Food Systems. A Cardinal mandate is to always have multiple projects moving forward, with the approach that a history of success does not ensure success in the future. It’s an important reason why the company invests a significant amount of resources in product development. "Regardless of our latest innovation - whether it’s through the process, equipment or food flavour - our mindset has always been the next big thing is right around the corner for this company - and the industry," adds Cator. "In fact, we have several exciting concepts in the works right now." The Revolution Burger also win National Provisioner’s 2012 New Product of the Year. Click here to read about the collaboration between Cardinal, Sysco and Certified Angus Beef. Cardinal Meat Specialists was featured in the December 2012 issue of the Independent Processor. Click here to read Cator’s thoughts on product innovation and the company’s new processing plant.

  • Industry News

    The Natural Texture Forming process allows the burger to be cooked at 160 degrees (in half the time of similar sized, hand-formed burgers), ensuring a food safe product while maintaining a juicy mouthfeel. Cardinal Meat Specialists will phase in its Natural Texture Forming process into the company’s entire branded burger lineup over the next 24 months. "We feel it truly is revolutionary in many important ways, especially the cooking temperature and the benefits that go along with it," Cator said. "Cardinal has a long-standing history of developing innovative burger concepts that break through what has traditionally been a commodity space," said CEO Brent Cator. The process was developed by Cardinal and is proprietary to the company. By Michael Fielding Cardinal recently was honored with a Sysco USA Gold Level Product of the Year Award, recognizing the Butcher-style Burger as the most innovative product developed and launched during fiscal year 2013. Cardinal Butcher-style Burgers, made with the Natural Texture Forming process, now account for almost half of the Canadian company’s burger business, including foodservice, retailer and consumer channels.

  • Industry News

    NAMA Officers and Directors begin new terms July 8, 2013 On July 1st the North American Meat Association’s new executive officers began their one year terms. Among the executive team is Cardinal’s very own John Vatri! John has been appointed to the position of Co-Vice President. Congratulations John! “With representatives in the United States, Canada and Mexico, and a community of more than 600 companies, North American Meat Association provides its members exceptional regulatory advocacy, educational opportunities, and a spirit of partnership that is unique in the industry.”

  • Industry News

    A revolutionary new burger has an all-star team behind it. By Sam Gazdziak May 7, 2013 With so many types of burgers available on the market, it takes a special product to be noticed in a crowded field. The Revolution Burger certainly meets that requirement. The National Provisioner 2012 New Product of the Year brings something different to the burger category, both in the way that it’s made and the companies that are behind it. The burger is made by Cardinal Meat Specialists, which has decades of experience as one of the top burger makers in Canada. Using some customized European technology, the burger represents the company’s entry into the U.S. market. The meat comes from Certified Angus Beef, the most recognizable Angus brand on the market. The distributor for the burger is Sysco, a giant in the food distribution business. The burger has been available in Canada for approximately three years, and in that short time, it now represents more than 50 percent of Cardinal’s business. The technology to make it has been available in Europe, but Cardinal CEO Brent Cator brought it to his production facility in Ontario. “We changed the game by taking some of the technologies we had seen in Europe and combining that with the ingenuity of our own maintenance guys,” he says. The burger is produced in a zero-pressure environment, resulting in a looser texture and superior eating benefits. “You get a faster-cooking product and more even cooking,” Cator notes. “The flavour is better because it stays on the grill for a shorter period of time. The flavour profile is being maintained because the product is not getting abused by being on the grill for a long time.” To bring the Revolution Burger to the U.S., Cardinal partnered with Certified Angus Beef. Brett Erickson, director, value-added products for CAB, noted that the combination of the two companies and the distribution through Sysco was a win for all companies involved, as well as consumers. “We combined a beef brand recognized for quality, a manufacturer bringing an innovative process to market and a distributor having nationwide reach,” he says. “With this product and these companies, we have brought a unique mix of quality, innovation and marketing to the table.” Doug Aistrup, director of category management, Sysco Corporate beef department, points out that the process and the raw materials are what makes this burger stand out. “The natural texture forming process that Cardinal Meats developed creates a burger unique in our industry,” he says. “This is apparent in both its taste and appearance. And great-tasting burgers start with top-quality raw materials. Partnering with Certified Angus Beef on this was the right fit for us.” Aistrup says that the response to the burger has been enthusiastic. The Revolution Burger comes at a time when premium burgers are very trendy. “With the rising cost of beef, today’s premium burger is yesterday’s steak for many consumers, so the timing is ideal to launch this new product” he says. “It allows our customers to serve a high-end burger, with high-quality taste, without the high price tag associated with other premium cuts of meat.” REVOLUTION BURGER Cardinal Meats Specialists, Brampton, Ontario, Canada Certified Angus Beef, Wooster, Ohio Sysco, Houston, Texas

  • Industry News By Emily Meredith In the industry, we are often bombarded with the messaging that “big is bad.” I can’t go a week without reading an article or book about the “locavore” movement—where people are picking up all their veggies and meat products from the local farm stand or farmers markets. Now, to be clear, I’m not knocking the local farmer or rancher at all—I, for one, love nothing more than dragging my grumbling husband to a farmers market during the summer. The problems come when those outside the industry (and we all know by now to whom I’m referring) want to force a “one size fits all” approach. There are big problems with this ideology. For starters, it’s naïve. There’s a reason that our country has gone through so many revolutions—including the industrial one. It’s because demand has traditionally increased quicker than supply. So, ingenious Americans had to find ways to increase production without increasing costs. Enter the factory. I’m not sure when “factory” became a dirty word, but when I look at large processing operations like the one I visited last month, I don’t see a “factory.” I see a system where a company can control the supply, control the end product and control the middle portions—the actual production. This level of control produces a great final product, which consumers demand. More than producing a high-quality, safe and delicious end product, large-scale operations have other advantages, namely efficiency and sustainability. Ah yes, our good friend sustainability. Large scale operations that are fully integrated have the resources to become hyper-efficient and very nearly self-sustaining. Take, for example, waste. Not only is the manure produced on the farms where sows and hogs are raised, used to fertilize the croplands where those same animals’ feed is grown, but the animal fat that would otherwise be unusable, is now being used to produce biofuel. More impressive is that the plant I visited doesn’t produce enough animal fat to run their biofuel brainchild—so they purchase fat (again that would otherwise be unusable) from other plants which process farm animals. Owning and operating an integrated system allows for resources to be available to hire people who are going to think up ideas—like opening a biofuel plant—in their storage sheds (true story!) and give them the platforms (and again resources) to make those ideas reality. Another benefit of being “bigger,” is that companies can literally control their supply. The company I visited raises very specific breeds for certain reasons. One of the reasons is because the breeds they now raise can be humanely slaughtered using their CO2 systems that I mentioned last week. In fact, their Quality Assurance Manager (QA) informed me that when they first were considering switching their operations to use CO2 stunning, one of the breeds they were raising was known to have an aversion to CO2, thus making slaughter by that method inhumane. Because the company was able to control their supply, they were able to phase out that specific breed and raise solely breeds that could be safely—and humanely—slaughtered utilizing CO2 stunning. More than that, I found out that the company not only owns the trucks used for transporting the pigs, but also hires employees (at an extra cost to the company) to unload those trucks. That way, it is the company’s employees that are solely responsible for handling the live animals, and they receive the proper training to do so. Now, I’m not saying that small operations don’t care about animal welfare or food safety—what I am saying, though, is that just because you’re a “big fish” doesn’t mean that you don’t operate with extremely high standards. But being bigger certainly allows you the time, opportunity and resources to implement and create—to truly improve upon existing systems. More importantly, just because you’re bigger, doesn’t mean that your company and your employees don’t have the same values as a sole farmer, rancher or processor. Remember, QA from my last blog? Well, he told me that he feels privileged to be able to process animals. He feels that it’s not just a business obligation, but a moral and ethical obligation to treat pigs with respect. I couldn’t agree more. We’re all privileged though. We’re privileged to live in a country where there is a meat industry. We’re privileged to live in a country where there is abundant food and consumer choice. We’re privileged to have the money to make choices about where we buy food. Most of all, we’re privileged to have companies willing to work hard to improve existing systems to ensure a safe, wholesome and affordable food supply. So, thank you to the amazing company and its employees who opened their doors to me and patiently answered my questions on the farms and in the plants. You know who you are.

  • Industry News By: Tom Johnston, Managing Editor To visit meatingplace click here Knock, Knock Who’s there? It’s Cardinal Meat Specialists, coming to America with what made it one of Canada’s leading processors: door-opening technologies and products. "First" things first: A technology that removes the tough membrane on the back of ribs, creating a better eating product that cooks more evenly and protects meat cutters from carpel tunnel syndrome; a patented vertical conveyor system that stacks frozen hamburger patties so that a 300-patty-per-minute volume can be handled in an organized manner that allows for better metal detection; a DNA microbiology lab deployed inside a meat plant; a technique of controlling temperature through air motion to prevent product shrink while limiting bacterial growth; a process that deploys natural smoke inside of individual product pouches; a process to combine into one step the multiple steps the rest of the industry takes to process shredded product … Some 46 years since the company began, Cardinal Meats Specialists has pioneered its way to an enviable position in the Canadian market. You can hardly buy a burger patty — oh, it was the first to shape burgers there, too — in a grocery store up North that the Brampton, Ontario-based company didn’t produce either under its name or the store’s. Walk into a national restaurant chain up there, and you’re likely to be dining on a beef, pork or chicken product kettle-cooked at the company’s kettle cooking facility. The company has grown its sales by 30 percent each year for the last four years. Nonetheless, Brent Cator, president and owner of Cardinal isn’t about to sit still. Yeah, he’s got a foot in the U.S. door with a new burger forming technology that he says will "revolutionize" the industry. But with a brand-new platform the company calls Advanced Protein Portioning (APP) — using a unique combination of technologies for continuous line cooking — he’s aiming to knock it down. It’s just a matter of finding an American partner as finicky with food safety and quality standards as Cardinal is. USA, meet Cardinal Meats. "We [have a very strong position] here in Canada," says Cator, whose recent knee surgery doesn’t keep him from buzzing about the company’s headquarters. "As we launch more of these technologies into the United States, we’re quite comfortable in the private label and or branded space, be it a foodservice or retail operation. We have the capabilities across the board — marketing, sales distribution, capacities — to react. ... I’m not hung (up) on whether it’s one or the other; [we will do] what the customer is looking for." Food safety first Truth be told, Cardinal is hardly unknown south of the border. Its U.S. brethren in the North American Meat Association, especially, know Cator as a vocal industry advocate and his company as a beacon of food safety excellence. The company also made headlines in December for recalling burgers suspected as culprits of making some Canadian consumers sick with E. coli O157:H7. But Cator wasn’t sweating it; he knew the recall ultimately would demonstrate how well his systems work, as did a recall in 2007. Sure enough, in this case, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency issued no corrective actions and ended its probe without finding a source of the contamination, but ruled out ingredients originating at the Brampton plant. Cardinal is a company, after all, that has worked with industry stakeholders to deploy food safety technologies from farm to fork; that beat the Canadian and U.S. governments to employing DNA testing in a meat processing plant; whose standards meet the most stringent requirements of the Global Food Safety Initiative; that uses oxidative gases to kill bacteria in the air inside its plants, a tactic more commonly deployed in hospitals; and whose president has launched a side business dedicated solely to developing a technology that will at long last pasteurize a beef carcass. "We lead with food safety," Cator says. "We are known first and foremost for food safety and integrity as a business. That’s our brand, that’s our business, and we lead in it." But for all that confidence, there’s been a reluctance to do much business in the United States, particularly with regard to the trade of raw hamburger patties. For one thing, they’re raw meat products that require a fail-proof cold chain, especially on longer journeys. Another issue is they can contain naturally, randomly occurring bacteria that can cause a real stir, especially if they’re found at the border (read: XL Foods). "Moving fully cooked products across the border is pretty seamless. The reality is if you have the most efficient facility, we can source as well as anybody at any scale, quite frankly, with our operations the size they are today," Cator says. "When it comes to raw burgers moving across the border, it’s more of a challenge, [often] from a political standpoint because at different times one country might take a stance that may or may not have anything to do with the (quality or safety of the) product." There’s an APP for that Cator has a bunch of technologies and products to present across the border, but he calls APP the company’s "most cutting edge." Scheduled to go live in March, the system will offer Cardinal and its customers a number of benefits, including a more versatile cooked product portfolio, enhanced food safety measures, faster speed-to-market and reduced labor. Cardinal’s APP system capitalizes on existing forming, oven and packaging technologies, but uses them in a never-before-used combination. The aim is to form ground or chunked meat into three-dimensional, portion-controlled products that are finish-cooked in individual sealed pouches. Doing so eliminates pathogen concerns but also, Cator notes, creates a better eating product. The APP system will be forming, packaging and cooking sausage, burgers, restructured chicken breasts, whole-muscle items, sandwich steaks, boneless ribs and a lot more at a rate of about 300 units per minute. The idea is to create a variety of items that can be used in multiple retail and foodservice platforms, either as center-of-the-plate proteins or as protein ingredients. "We’ve only started to explore the versatility of items we can do with new technologies we’re deploying," Cator says. The continuous-line system can provide full color development, char marks, or whatever the customer desires. And from beginning to end, the process takes all of an hour. "Nobody’s doing [APP]," Cator says. "The comparable line, where companies are combining different technologies, you’re dealing with products that would be out in process and operation anywhere from nine to 30 hours. We’re also dealing with lines that will require, for instance, a sausage line with 12 people. In an equivalent sausage production operation, they’d typically be running 50 people. So it’s being able to get the benefits of technology but still having that personal touch, because we will have people in key critical control points. But they’re much more involved in quality assurance and consistency than having to be processing, moving carts and trays around and handling the product." To market As finicky as Cardinal is about food safety and product quality, it is picky about the customers with which it does business. Many U.S. retail and foodservice chains have already opened businesses in Canada and are quite familiar with Cardinal. A deal reached last year with foodservice giant Sysco and Certified Angus Beef (CAB) to distribute and brand, respectively, to U.S. foodservice customers the Natural Texture Forming burgers already has created some momentum. Brett Erickson, director of value added products for CAB, notes that 40 Sysco distribution centers are now moving the product nationwide. "Once we took a look at the product, we became very intrigued with the new technology," he says. "This is probably the first innovation in texture forming ... in the last 20 years." Cator believes Cardinal has an advantage in having cut its teeth in Canada, where he says the landscape is as competitive as the U.S. but much smaller. That there are fewer key players in foodservice and retail means their suppliers have to be nimble and quick to react on a national basis. Cardinal works on 40 to 45 product development projects at a time, and can turn them around in weeks, a capability that Americans may not realize of their neighbors. "Canada could be a great testing ground," he says. "You have retailers who want to break out a category with something new, but they simply want to get in and get out depending on what they’re trying to achieve or prove out. Canadian companies are fast, nimble, able to deal with a great deal of variety and at smaller volumes without having to stop the entire facility to run some unique items." AT A GLANCE Company: Cardinal Meat Specialists Headquarters: Brampton,Ontario, Canada Leadership: Brent Cator, president Employees: 130-230 Products: Frozen burgers, kettle-cooked beef, pork and chicken for retail and foodservice UP/DOWN UP: TECHNOLOGY Cardinal has proven over decades that it can advance food safety and product quality through novel, pioneering uses of technology. UP: BATTLE TESTED The smaller, highly competitive Canadian market has forced Cardinal to be ready to react to customer needs, which is why it is working on 40 or more product development projects at a time for retailers and restaurant chains. UP/DOWN: BURGERS Consumers’ appetite for hamburgers won’t likely ever go away, but raw ground beef is an inherently risky product to make (See Cardinal’s two recalls). UP: BEYOND THE BUSINESS Cardinal and its leaders are tireless advocates for improving the meat industry’s operational practices. Web Extra For a deeper dive into Cardinal Meat Specialists’ business strategy, watch our exclusive video at Cardinal’s R&D kitchen is turning out a variety of cooked products for foodservice and retail.

  • Industry News By tom Johnston Canada’s Cardinal Meat Specialists is expanding its Brampton, Ontario, plant to add new cooking capabilities through a unique combination of processing line technologies. The expansion will add some 20,000 square feet of dedicated production space to the Brampton plant, which primarily produces frozen hamburger patties for national retail and foodservice customers. The new space will house the company’s Advanced Protein Portioning (APP) system to produce a variety of cooked meat and poultry products. “Each piece of equipment on its own is in production in different parts of the world, but what we’re creating is a highly flexible line to use them in a unique combination,” Cardinal President Brent Cator told Meatingplace, explaining APP. “What we want to be able to do is form ground or chunked meats in [three-dimensional], portion-controlled products and do fully cooked into a sealed environment product. That is, the finishing cook is done sealed in a pouch. By doing that, we’ve eliminated the risks of pathogens.” Equipment is slated to arrive in the new space in mid-January, and operations are expected to begin in March. (Update corrects the name of the technology to Advanced Protein Portioning.) Editor’s note: For a more in-depth look at Cardinal Meats and its technologies, read our company profile in the February issue of Meatingplace magazine and watch an accompanying video

  • Industry News SAFETY ZONE by Dr. James Marsden James Marsden is Kansas State University Regent’s Distinguished Prof. of Food Safety. Last week the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) issued a statement about its investigation of a cluster of illnesses and the resulting recall that demonstrates remarkable restraint and reason. It also contains very good advice for consumers. The investigation followed a small cluster of E. coli cases linked to raw ground beef produced by Cardinal Meats Specialist Ltd. Canadian food safety officials matched the genetic fingerprint from the illnesses to the recalled product on one production day. A limited recall followed that included production from four production days. Cardinal Meats, like most manufacturers of ground beef requires that suppliers test raw materials for E. coli O157:H7 and conducts its own verification testing. Canadian government officials evaluated the company’s food safety procedures, production and testing records and also conducted additional testing on spices and other burger ingredients. They determined that all beef products and non-meat ingredients tested negative for E. coli O157:H7. After exhausting all possible sources of E. coli contamination, CFIA announced that the investigation has been concluded. This outbreak and recall is much like the many others that have occurred over the past several years in the United States. The truth is that ground beef manufacturers are pretty much dependent on their raw material suppliers when it comes to controlling E. coli O157:H7. It also shows that even a robust raw material sampling and testing program doesn’t assure that E. coli contamination is always prevented. What makes this case remarkable is the fact that the CFIA recognized that the company implicated in the recall made every effort to produce the safest possible product. In their press release they stated that “Canada has rigorous requirements for meat production to reduce the risk of E. coli,but even the best food safety systems cannot eliminate all potential opportunities for contamination all the time”. This is the first time I’ve ever heard a regulatory agency acknowledge this fundamental truth. Their statement then goes on to say: “This is why it is critical that consumers take a few simple steps to keep their food safe. Cooking ground beef to at least 71°C fully destroys E. coli bacteria. As well, consumers can prevent contamination of other foods by ensuring that cooking surfaces and utensils are well cleaned with soap and water after coming into contact with raw beef.” Again, the statement is impressive in its honesty and sound advice for consumers. Anyone who has followed this blog knows that I am committed to finding a real solution to the problem of E. coli O157:H7 and non-O157 STECs in beef. Cooking alone isn’t the answer. There is still much more that needs to be done by the beef industry to achieve this goal. However, it’s refreshing to see a regulatory agency refrain from blaming a company for a problem that was not of their making and for having the courage to tell consumers the truth about E. coli contamination and how they can they can help reduce the risk of illness. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency deserves a lot of credit for their honesty and the professional manner in which they managed the recall and investigation.

  • Industry News

    At Cardinal Meat Specialists, “innovation” is much more than a buzzword that’s thrown around in marketing materials and sales calls. It’s at the core of the company’s philosophy and has been since it was started by the Cator family in 1966. “We have found innovative ways to use global technologies and apply them differently in North America, and that led us to grow to that next step,” says Brent Cator, CEO. “One technology has led to the next, which has led to the next.” As an example, Cardinal Meats was the first HACCP-recognized beef processor in Canada and the first to use infrared light analysis for fat, moisture & proteins. Cardinal was also the first to utilize DNA lab technology for advanced microbiology for meat products testing and to utilize Tenderform fill technology in the mid1980s. The latter advancement, Cator notes, was the last major innovation in burger making technology — until recently. Last year, Cardinal Meats moved its headquarters from Mississauga, Ontario, to nearby Brampton. The new plant, with a wide open manufacturing space, allowed the company to install five lines of cutting edge burger processing equipment, as well as the latest in freezing and packaging equipment. The technology came from a worldwide search for the latest processing innovations; what Cator couldn’t find, Cardinal employees built. The result is a highly versatile facility that can produce every one of Cardinal’s 150 burger items, including those made with its latest burger breakthrough, Natural Texture FormingTM. That product, released in Canada about three years ago, made its debut in the United States as the “Revolution Burger” through a partnership with Certified Angus Beef and Sysco Corp. The burgers are available in more than 50 Sysco markets across the country. The processing equipment may have come from all over the world, yet Cator points out the mere act of buying new technology doesn’t guarantee success. “I’ve watched company after company review what’s being done in Europe and bring it back here, without respect for what the North American consumer is after, instead of looking for the innovation behind what’s being done and seeing how it can be used to meet the customers’ needs,” he explains. The real innovation, he says, involves taking that European technology and “North American-izing” it to produce products that appeal to Cardinal’s customer base and solve the needs of its customers. The creativity and perseverance shown by Cardinal employees is evident throughout the production process, from patty papers that are dispensed at a previously unheard of rate to a conveyor that can drop products from the top of a spiral freezer to the packaging area in perfect alignment for packaging. The concept for some of the Cardinal designed equipment has since been sold to Marel for mass distribution. When all five lines are running at full capacity, Cardinal has the ability to produce 1,500 burgers per minute in Brampton. The addition of the U.S. market will help smooth out the peaks and valleys of the company’s burger business, which is a seasonal one in Canada. Cardinal is not just focusing on burgers, though. The company’s Kettle-CookedTM, sealed environment technology has made the company a leader in cooked ribs, pulled pork as well as batch-style products, and that business is expected to continue its growth curve. On top of all that, Cardinal is planning on making a huge splash in the world of portion controlled products with a process every bit as innovative as the burger making operation. BEST IN BURGERS Cator notes that while the company has more than 150 burger types — including all proteins, sizes, inclusions, hormone free and veggie burgers — the one thing the company has never made is a commodity burger. “It’s all unique and diversified and specialized,” he says. “Each customer for those products feels like it’s the absolute best product, and it is — for them.” The new plant in Brampton became a necessity as Cardinal outgrew its grinding operation in Mississauga. Investing in new packaging technology or form/fill equipment required more and longer processing lines. The plant itself, a former steel facility, went from vacant to fully operational and SQF Level 2-certified in just over six months, and Cardinal was able to roll out new technology it couldn’t in its old plant. The new facility has five lines, all of which are modular and can produce every one of the burgers in Cardinal’s extensive portfolio. Even the largest pieces of equipment are interchangeable. That feature allows Cardinal to be more efficient in its slower periods and also helps maintain one of the best fill rates in the country. The processing equipment is state of the art, but no expense was spared in the rest of the plant either. “Whether it be insulated panels or management of light systems to the latest in refrigeration, the technology we’ve used has been the latest and the greatest,” Cator says. He points to the very air itself as an example. The air in the plant is continually being purified, which is typically a feature of only the most progressive ready-to-eat facilities. That technology helps clean the surfaces in the room continuously and eliminates the risk of mold growth. Initially, Cardinal planned to run four lines with room for a fifth to be added in the future. However, one of the company’s largest competitors went out of business during construction. “Our customers, right at peak season, were in a desperate need, so we dropped in the fifth line and were able to do the installs while the other lines were running, because of the [plant’s] setup,” he explains. “We launched about 35 products over an eight week period.” Much of the focus lately has been on the Revolution burger technology. Though the product is just three years old, it already accounts for about half of Cardinal’s burger business. The natural texture forming equipment produces patties using a zero pressure environment, as opposed to other machines that push the meat through at high pressure. “The eating benefits are fantastic,” Cator says. “You get a faster cooking product with more even cooking. The flavour is better because it stays on the grill for a shorter period of time. Each strand of meat gets sealed, so if you have a product that has a spice or inclusions, the flavour profile is maintained on a much more natural basis. The product is not getting abused by being on a grill for a long time.” The end result, Cator notes, is a product that both eats better and is less processed than a more conventional burger patty. In order to make a big splash in the North American market with the burgers, he decided to partner with Certified Angus Beef and Sysco to create a truly premium product with a huge sales force promoting it nationwide. The Natural Texture Forming equipment was discovered during a trip overseas. The equipment Cator saw was only producing 30 portions per minute, and was geared for steak tartare and meat loaf. He needed it tailored for burger patties, and the equipment had to run about 10 times faster at the Cardinal plant. “We North Americanized that technology and found ways to employ it,” he says. “Nobody was able to run these technologies as fast, and nobody had been able to deploy patty paper technology at the speeds we are doing until we came along. We brought the European technology over and found a way to advance that.” Burgers, produced at 300 patties per minute at each line, enter into a spiral freezer. When they are frozen, Cator wanted to have the products move from the top of the spiral freezer to the packaging line, perfectly oriented and ready for the packaging line employees. When he could not find the existing technology to do that, he brought the problem in-house, and Cardinal built and patented the technology. The company is using five of the Vertical Conveyor SystemsTM, and it built several more before Cator sold the technology last year. “They have zero changeover time between products and can deal with any speed you can throw at them,” he says proudly. “They bring the patties down in nice alignment and perfect speed so that the metal detection can be as accurate as possible.” Once the decision was made that a new, larger plant was necessary, Cardinal employees were asked about new technologies or production improvements that could really benefit both Cardinal and its customers. The employees came up with a list of 21 new technologies that should be deployed while building the new facility. All 21 have been deployed, and 10 of them have created real points of differentiation for the company. Thanks to the improved throughput in the new facility, Cardinal grew about 40 percent in output in the last year. While the task of deploying so many new technologies in a new plant was difficult, nothing was dismissed as being impossible, which is not a word in Cator’s vocabulary. “Every time we come up with a product that in theory can’t be done, they know the one word that I really take offense to is ‘can’t,’” he points out. “It usually stimulates a lot of conversation. If a customer needs it, we’ll find a way in order to deploy that.” THERE WILL BE AN APP FOR THAT The decision to move to a new facility began about three years ago when Cator’s executive team set some very lofty goals for the company’s future. The goals were to grow the grinding business substantially, grow the Kettle Cooked business to the point that it was the size of the grind business, and do it all by the end of 2013. “We saw that as very viable, because people are looking for more convenient products and less processed products,” Cator says, adding that the company is well on track to meet those goals. “To do that, we really had to expand the breadth of line that Kettle Cooked could touch, as far as product lines.” Kettle Cooked, or sealed environment cooking, cooks the protein without oxygen, which eliminates any warmed-over flavour profiles that can come with traditional cook technologies. The cooking process provides a long shelf life for products without using extra preservatives, and it provides a tender product by using the meat’s own juices, rather than pumping it with water. It also does a better job of infusing a product with seasonings or spices, resulting in a better tasting, less processed product with a long shelf life. Cator points out that consumers see a recipe for a shepherd’s pie on TV and want to try it, but they don’t want to spend hours and hours cooking the beef roast and cubing it to add to the recipe. “What they really wanted to do was to combine the Kettle Cooked product with the pastry or spices they have at home,” he says. By buying beef at a store that has already been properly prepared, consumers can spend their time assembling the meal instead of preparing ingredients. By the same token, a chef at a restaurant who has the meat already prepared can then focus on combining different components to create a great entrée. Traditionally, the Kettle Cooked has been used for time-consuming products that are difficult to prepare at home or in a restaurant, such as a beef roast or pulled pork. The company also provides protein for meal assemblers; companies that want to sell lasagna, for example, but don’t want the microbiological risk of raw meat in their plants turn to Cardinal for help. One area Cator believes is destined to grow for kettle cooking is in bone in chicken. He points to the success of rotisserie chicken in supermarkets. “[The rotisserie product] has one huge flaw, in that it’s bringing raw chicken into the middle of a retail store,” he points out. “So along with raw chicken, they are bringing in Salmonella, Campylobacter or whatever else, because raw chicken has higher numbers of risks.” The idea, Cator says, is for Cardinal to bring in a fresh, fully cooked all-natural product into the store minus the pathogens, where it can be finished at the store level. It eliminates the food safety risk and also eliminates the waste, since an order of any size can be prepared and sold in about 15 minutes. The idea is growing in popularity among retailers and also casual dining restaurants, which want to do away with their own rotisseries in favor of an easier to use product. The next phase of Cardinal’s growth strategy will focus on using that Kettle Cooked technology on portion controlled products. “How can we do mainstream, high value products, but better than a consumer can do at home or a restaurant can do? Our team looked at what technologies were out there. We did a lot of tours primarily around Europe and across the U.S., and we came back with APP technology,” says Cator. APP, or Advanced Protein PortioningTM, will take Cardinal’s range of forming technologies and combine it with the company’s sealed environment cooking expertise. Instead of batch products, the new lines will process things like formed steaks, sausages, vegetable products, sandwiches and more. “We have wonderful portion control capabilities in our grinding operation, whether it be whole muscle restructured, ground or inclusion products,” Cator says. “Our kettle cooking technology has the ability to take undervalued cuts or hard to prepare products and find ways to make it more palatable, have a better flavour and longer shelf life for meat as an ingredient.” “Then we looked at the needs out there,” he adds. “The restaurateur was looking for a combination of those two, and our APP technology is just that.” Cardinal is in the process of finishing off an expansion at the Brampton facility that will accommodate the APP operation. Once that expansion is complete and operational, Cardinal will have about 200 full time employees between its Brampton location and the kettle cooking facility in Mississauga. Cator is quick to credit the employees for adapting to the new technology so quickly and their commitment to the company’s long term goals. While the company was in the process of transitioning its grinding operation to Brampton, the employees were brought over to the new facility regularly to see the progress and offer their input. As a result, the company did not lose a single employee when the new plant opened. A CHANGE OF THINKING As part of looking for new technology, Cator traveled around the world, touring facilities in England, France, Hungary, the Netherlands, Russia and Germany. First he would go to supermarkets to look at the variety of products available, and then he toured the manufacturing facilities to see the process. Many of the plants were not meat processing operations, but they still proved to be valuable learning experiences. “There are some great, leading edge technologies being used,” Cator says of the European market. Cator came back to Canada and went to his customers to discuss the technologies, as there was no point in deploying the technology if nobody would buy it. Cator focused on the potential capabilities in those meetings rather than the finished products, so the corporate chefs could see the technology and decide on the potential applications for their own businesses. “Everyone likes to go read some research and then go and build the product according to what the research said,” he says. “The problem is, when you’re launching truly innovative capabilities, the market isn’t developed, so you can’t read something to find out what it would do. “Instead, innovators look to the current trends: people are looking for more natural food, consumers are looking to be chefs themselves but need some help with the ingredient preparation. Restaurants want simpler products to prepare so they can focus on the front of the house and not the back. “When those trends are in place, it’s being able to see those and build product capabilities into that space without having the supporting data that says, ‘Yes, it will be successful,’” Cator says. “That’s really what innovation is.”

  • Industry News

    Even as the Canadian and U.S. beef industries aim to harmonize their regulations for more efficient cross-border trade, XL Foods’ submission to an E. coli O157:H7-related recall shows that there’s more work to be done. By Tom Johnston, managing editor The line on the map that divides the United States and Canada represents the longest unprotected border in the world. It’s open for business, and the two countries do a serious amount of it. At an estimated $650 billion per year, it is the largest bilateral trading partnership in the world. To further put its scope in perspective, Canada buys more goods from the U.S. than it does from the UK, Germany, Japan and China combined. "Canada is a trading nation," Jeanette Patell, first secretary (agriculture and fisheries) at the Canadian Embassy in Washington, D.C., said at a North American Meat Association (NAMA) conference in late October. "With a population of only [about 35 million] people, we have to be." Included in that crucial U.S.-Canadian commerce is the trade of beef and cattle. It’s also big business, and — as both countries know very well from experience (see BSE) — it’s a risky, potentially reputation- and financially damaging business. The North American allies generally endeavor to help each other facilitate trade, which is why they’re currently working on everything from harmonizing the nomenclature of their beef cuts to a pilot program aimed at making cross-border meat trade more efficient. But against that backdrop was a massive beef recall that forced XL Foods — owner of some 45 percent of Canada’s beef packing capacity — into the arms of Brazil’s JBS S.A. and, say Canadian peers and others familiar with the recall process, highlighted differences between the U.S. and Canadian approach to food safety management that also need to be better harmonized. On the border XL’s unraveling began Sept. 4 when USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service discovered some XL Foods beef product contaminated with E. coli O157:H7 at the 49th parallel. That it happened there was significant. "Canada typically needs to overcompensate on their food safety programs because of the border, versus what has to happen inside either country. There’s a political impact," says Brent Cator, president and CEO of Brampton, Ontario-based Cardinal Meats. "Because that product goes across the border, there is incremental random testing that it would not be subject to if it hadn’t crossed the border. Is that a good or a bad thing? Well, it’s good because it identified a problem. But if that’s a good practice, in theory we should just do more testing of things. The answer is not in additional testing. The answer is prevention at farm, and harvest interventions that lead to carcass pasteurization." The Canadian Food Inspection Agency, having already found a positive in XL product on its turf also on Sept. 4, received word from FSIS and set forth to protect public health. That is something, sources say firmly, that CFIA achieved. They say also that XL made mistakes — but not enough to ruin its business, something that could have been avoided had CFIA’s approach been more equivalent to that of FSIS. The overarching discrepancy, they contend, is that CFIA has the authority to mandate a recall (FSIS does not), creating a relationship with its constituents that is less than optimally collaborative and affects how decisions get made in the process of a recall. Some, for example, were disappointed by CFIA’s decision to issue a "rolling" recall, a series of public alerts in the middle of the investigation that they say amount to repeated punches in the public boxing ring. "Balancing the need to have reliable information with the need to inform the public as soon as possible means that the CFIA regularly alerts consumers of recalled product while investigations are still ongoing," CFIA spokesman Guy Gravelle says. "With this approach several public alerts may be issued for the same recall." He adds that such recall expansions are common because of the industry’s "intricate webs of distribution." Critics contend that rolling recalls are not common in the United States. FSIS has trended away from those in recent years, instead endeavoring to complete an investigation and then issue one recall, they say. "When we recall and how much is a judgment call," an FSIS spokesman says. "We try to get everything in one effort, but there have been situations where we find additional production dates or products with the same pathogen strain needed to be made part of the recall, so we will and have expanded recalls from time to time. We did it last year with Cargill." But in that case, Cargill first recalled (in August 2011) 36 million pounds of ground turkey on fears of Salmonella Heidelberg contamination. The recall had one expansion the next month of 185,000 pounds. The handling of recalled product demonstrated another of the differences between Canadian and U.S. inspection procedures, sources contend. CFIA required that such product destined for cooking be tested again following the cooking process, adding costs to prove what is universally accepted as a foolproof bacteria killer. "High temperature treatment is sufficient to deal with E. coli contamination as the temperature time exposure combination will ensure that bacteria are destroyed," CFIA spokeswoman Lisa Gauthier says. "This was done at a registered cooking facility. Because the product was under CFIA detention, CFIA chose to take additional steps to confirm that this cooking process had been effective." Reality Hits Ultimately XL Foods had to dump more than 1 million pounds of beef in a Canadian landfill, recall 2.5 million pounds of beef products that had entered the U.S. and render or cook some 12 million pounds of product stored at its Brooks, Alberta, plant, according to Canadian press reports. XL also, as of mid-November, had still been barred from shipping product to the U.S., to name just one international market. Suffice it to say it was a financial wallop hard enough to force the company to buckle into the arms of JBS, which will likely exercise an option to acquire XL’s Canadian and U.S. assets for $100 million. JBS’s entry had some press writing as though the world’s largest animal processing company was cleaning up XL’s mess, though JBS’s U.S. subsidiary — whose Greeley, Colo., plant suffered through its own high-volume beef recall in the U.S. in 2010 — stumbled out of the gate up in Brooks. CFIA asked for four corrective actions the first week JBS reopened the plant. The reality is that E. coli can and will get through, no matter who is in charge. As such, industry is left to make the best of a risky business while trying to make products as safe as possible with the available technologies. It’s a frustrating situation, which is why the issue of carcass pasteurization has been popping up at a lot at events such as the NAMA outlook conference in October. Further processors would rather not be held responsible for contamination that originates back at the packing plants, and XL’s woes only underscore their argument for regulatory focus on the source of contamination: the pathogens that end up on the carcass. Clean carcasses Cator of Cardinal Meats says it’s time that carcass pasteurization be mandated by law. "[The XL recall], along with everything the industry has learned, is supportive of the fact that carcass pasteurization needs to be required," Cator says. "I believe carcass pasteurization will be where we end up as an industry. The sooner the laws can aggressively and reasonably reflect that, the sooner it will happen." Starting with cleaner animals is key, and other countries have adopted government oversight of animal hide cleanliness prior to harvest. "This would be a big step in the right direction," he says. There are many ways to get to a pasteurized carcass. Some people in the industry have suggested irradiation as a main route, but consumers are squeamish about it. So others are trying to move past the irradiation-as-a-silver-bullet concept. One is Jim Marsden, the regent’s distinguished professor of meat science at Kansas State University (and a Meatingplace blogger). Packers who have tested irradiation on carcasses say it doesn’t work well, he notes. Marsden envisions an integrated system of interventions that include the slaughter, the cooling and post-chill processes that combine to reduce levels of E. coli and Salmonella to levels below the detection limit. This may include some newer technologies such as UV-based advanced oxidation. "Most packers don’t have effective interventions during carcass chilling and post-chill," Marsden says. "The concept of high-intensity UV and the application of advanced oxidation gases during the chilling process is new. No packers are using it yet for carcasses. It is being used to treat subprimals and beef trim." More work to be done.

  • News

    We are contacting you concerning the investigation by the CFIA related to certain products produced by Cardinal Meat Specialists. The details are best obtained directly from the CFIA website yet we want to confirm and clarify the situation in order to reassure our customers. Cardinal has the highest food safety standards in the industry and no corrective actions have been initiated by the CFIA in relation to this recall. It is also important to note that no Cardinal Branded products have tested positive for e coli and the recall of the Cardinal Select product is strictly a precautionary measure on our part. As you know these pathogens are not created at our facility and we are working diligently and cooperatively with the CFIA to help them trace the origin of the pathogen to it its root cause. The issue is limited to specific production dates and specific meat inputs and products and there is no known relation to the meat inputs, spice blends, other ingredients, and production dates for the other products that we manufacture. Unfortunately e-coli is a naturally and randomly occurring pathogen on the farms and, in spite of Canada having one of the highest food safety standards in the world, these types of situations take place sporadically in the meat industry. We remain committed to working with the CFIA and other industry stakeholders to introduce measures to eliminate the pathogen beyond the farm gate. Should you have any further questions or concerns please do not hesitate to contact me at 905-459-4436 or Regards Brent Cator President

  • Industry News

    Safety Zone By James Marsden James Marsden is Kansas State University Regent’s Distinguished Prof. of Food Safety (The views and opinions expressed in this blog are strictly those of the author.) Last week’s blog described the potential problems associated with non-intact beef products. So what are the solutions? I will start with my view on what isn’t the solution. I’m all for full disclosure when it comes to labeling ingredients. However, labeling for all non-intact beef products isn’t the solution. USDA has already taken steps to protect consumers by expanding their policy on E. coli O157:H7 and non-O157 STECs to include non-intact beef products. If the agency requires a label for all non-intact beef products and includes a recommendation for a cooking process with a 160-degree internal temperature, I predict that it will result in the following: •Since all non-intact products would carry the same label, it would act as a disincentive for processors to invest in interventions for beef subprimals. •Restaurants would likely ignore the 160-degree recommendation and continue to cook steaks and roasts to order. •The risks to consumers would either be unchanged or would increase over time as processors discontinue the use of interventions for beef subprimals. The safety of non-intact beef products is dependent on level of contamination on the surface of beef subprimals prior to blade tenderization or marination, the quantity of pathogenic bacteria that may be transferred into the interior of the muscle during processing and the lethality associated with the cooking process. Therefore, the solution is to greatly reduce or eliminate surface contamination on beef subprimals immediately before the blade tenderization process. There are interventions currently available that will provide a > 2 log reduction for pathogens, including Salmonella and E. coli O157:H7. These include Lactic Acid, Acidified Sodium Chlorite and UV/Photohydroionization. These interventions can be combined to achieve even greater reductions. Over time, additional interventions will become available. Research is underway to validate interventions for non-O157 STECS. Many processors already employ validated interventions for beef subprimals. Under a HACCP system, it makes sense that all processors who produce non-intact steaks and roasts should include an intervention in their process to address surface contamination. In my opinion, USDA should require these processors to conduct a hazard analysis and risk assessment for non-intact products. When companies choose not to employ a validated intervention, then labeling makes sense. It all comes down to the risk assessment. When the risk of translocation is effectively addressed, there is no difference between intact and non-intact steaks and roasts. In this scenario, the lethality of the cooking processes even for rare steaks and roasts would always be sufficient. If USDA takes this approach, it will act as a strong incentive for processors to invest in effective interventions. The result will be safer beef products and lower risks for consumers.

  • Industry News

    Safety Zone By James Marsden James Marsden is Kansas State University Regent’s Distinguished Prof. of Food Safety (The views and opinions expressed in this blog are strictly those of the author.) Recently, there’s been a lot of interest about non-intact steaks and roasts. The renewed interest is coming from consumer groups, FSIS and even the media. The major focus is on steaks cut from beef subprimals that have been blade tenderized. FSIS has already determined that non-intact steaks are adulterated if positive for E. coli O157:H7 and non-O157 STECs. According to the agency, this is “due, in part, to such products being customarily consumed rare or medium rare and do not attain a time and temperature combination sufficient to destroy this pathogen throughout the product”. The agency is now considering a requirement that non-intact cuts be labeled with recommended cooking instructions that call for a cooking process equivalent to a 160 degree internal temperature. The media interest in the safety of non-intact steaks raises the potential for negative publicity for the beef industry. All of this increased attention on non-intact beef raises questions about the prevalence of the blade tenderization process and whether non-intact steaks do actually pose a greater risk to consumers. In addition, it challenges beef processors to do more to assure that these products are safe. Regarding the prevalence of blade tenderization, in 2005, the National Meat Processors Association (now NAMA) conducted an industry survey of its members asking about their use of blade tenderization for steaks prepared for hotel, restaurant and institutional applications. The results of the survey showed that almost 90% of the steaks processed by NAMP members for HRI were blade tenderized. In many cases, beef subprimals were tenderized using multiple passes through a tenderizer. A separate study conducted at Kansas State University showed that if microbiological contamination is present on the surface of beef subprimals prior to the tenderization process, about 3% of the bacteria can be relocated into the interior of the muscle with each pass through the tenderizer. So is there an increased risk when intact or non-intact steaks are cooked to a rare degree of doneness? For intact steaks, all of the microbial contamination should be limited to the outside surface of steaks and would be immediately inactivated during the cooking process regardless of the degree of doneness. For non-intact steaks, the contamination of the surface would also be immediately inactivated, but what about that three or more percent that is in the interior of the muscle? Additional research at KSU on steaks inoculated with E. coli O157:H7 and cooked on a commercial grill showed that the combination of time and temperature did provide sufficient lethality. Steaks (even rare steaks) are usually cooked for a much longer period of time than ground beef patties. For example, the cooking time in fast-food restaurants for small frozen beef patties may be only 40-90 seconds, while even rare steaks are cooked for several minutes. Roasts are cooked for even longer periods of time. The longer cooking time provides an integrated lethality that should inactivate any pathogenic bacteria that have been translocated into interior of the muscle due to blade tenderization. Part II of the blog will address whether the longer cooking time is enough or should processors do more to assure that non-intact steaks are safe.

  • Industry Video Links

    Animal Welfare Perspectives
    Dr. Temple Grandin discusses the benefits of Remote Video Auditing (RVA) technology
    Click here to view

  • Industry News

    By: John Vatri This past week I attended the first meeting of a newly formed association, the North American Meat Association (NAMA), a consolidation of National Meat Association (NMA) and North American Meat Processors (NAMP). At this meeting, we were reminded that the purpose of an association can be found in the writings of the French citizen who travelled to what was then the newly independent America. His purpose was to observe, first hand, how this fledgling republic functioned as a democracy. Travelling from town to town, this explorer was amazed by the willingness of the American citizens to travel long distances for the purpose of coming together with their fellow citizens to form associations. What was remarkable to him was that these associations had the right, for the first time, to petition their new government. This was unheard of! Up until then the government dictated to the people. The ruling government (or Royal Family) handed down all policies and laws; and such edicts were never contested. Moreover, there was the shared belief among all citizens and elected government officials that petitioning the government was not only their prerogative; it was their God-given right. Thanks to those courageous pioneers, 200 years later, I’m allowed to be part of an organization with members from all across North America. Like those early Americans, we come together to share our knowledge with the goal of improving the lives of members, the lives of our employees and the advancement of our industry. During our last meeting, we became aware that one of our members was closed down by the USDA due to operational issues. Our initial reaction was to exercise our rights to defend our members unconditionally, and to begin the process of petitioning the appropriate government officials. We then asked ourselves “Is this the right thing to do?” Is this the responsible exercise of our right to petition? The members of NAMA all wanted very much to find a way to help the member in need. We decided, as an association, that we could best support our member by offering our knowledge and expertise in aiding him to regain compliance to industry standards. This would restore his ability to operate to the satisfaction of the USDA. This decision strengthens our industry and the viability of every member in our association. I’m proud to belong to a new association, that believes, as our forefathers did, that we have the God-given right to petition our governments, and also believes that it is important to do so only when it is the right thing to do

  • Industry News

    By Rita Jane Gabbett Sysco, Cardinal Meat Specialists Ltd. and Certified Angus Beef brand announced a new patty-making technology used to create a burger they say is lighter in density and texture than traditional hand-formed burgers. Using unique Natural Texture Forming technology that loosely weaves ground beef together, Cardinal’s “Revolution burger,” made with 100 percent Certified Angus Beef brand cuts, offers a faster cooking time with less shrink while maintaining its juicy texture and flavour, the creators explained in a news release. The loosely woven technique allows heat to penetrate the patty more quickly and evenly. Sysco Corporation will exclusively launch two new patties using this technology in 5.33-ounce and 8-ounce sizes. The new patties will be introduced in almost 50 Sysco markets across the country. “Natural Texture Forming (NTF) is an innovation developed by Cardinal following an exhaustive search of meat forming technologies around the world,” said Brent Cator, president of Cardinal Meat Specialists in Brampton, Ontario. “The unique meat fiber alignment combined with gentle-pressure forming provides a patty with an unequaled texture and bite.”

  • Industry News

    By: John Vatri Just weeks ago the debate over whether the federal government could mandate Americans to purchase health insurance ended in favor of the Democrats through a 5 to 4 vote in the Supreme Court. The debate became heated with the Democrats on one side wanting the health care legislation to be upheld in an effort to ensure millions of Americans will have health coverage whereas the Republicans felt any legislation that forced citizens to purchase health insurance was ”Un-American” and flew in the face of the constitution. I often think about the Supreme Court’s decision when considering the uphill battle our industry has faced when attempting to convince consumers to do what is good for their health and the health of others they may serve. Recently I had an opportunity to stay at a beautiful boutique hotel in San Diego. After completing the work I was sent there to do and after a few too many beer, the bartender asked me if I was hungry and wanted lunch. I told him I was a burger boy, on business there from Canada and would love to try the hotel’s burger. He thought that was a great idea as their burger was legendary and had been ordered by the rich and famous - the burger he was referring to was called the San Diego Special. To my surprise he then asked “how would you like it done?” I informed him of my background in Food Safety and requested it well done. In doing so I expounded all the reasons why ground beef had to be cooked to an internal temperature of 160F - this declaration usually elicits an eye roll from my wife, who incidentally was not on this trip- no need to go on about that as that would warrant a whole other article. After some time and a few more beer passed, the bartender returned and presented me with the San Diego Special - it was as he described: a large burger topped with 3 different cheeses, grilled onions and a tangy bbq sauce. As promised, it did not disappoint and as a result of my enthusiasm for the burger (helped along by the beer), it was not until my third bite that I realized the burger was extremely undercooked! As a matter of fact it was absolutely rare in the middle. Once I got over my original shock, I signaled for my favourite barkeep and showed him the centre of the burger. I then asked him why the burger was served rare after my insistence on thoroughly cooking the burger, not to mention the importance of cooking it thoroughly from a food safety perspective - did he not understand our conversation? His response was to ask me how I liked the San Diego Special - “isn’t the best burger you’ve ever had?” he asked. I replied that it certainly was however it was not the safest! Again I asked why he did not thoroughly cook the burger as I requested - did he not understand our food safety conversation? He said he did understand and had relayed our discussion to their Chef word for word. In response, the Chef told him he had heard all the food safety warnings before however could not bring himself to overcook and ruin his famous burger . I suspect some of you have shared in this experience and despite our teachings, our informative websites and the recalls, it appears some people will decide to ignore what is best for them and the general public’s health. Perhaps the Supreme Court was right in its decision?

  • Industry News

    By: John Vatri Earlier this year, I had an opportunity to sit it on meetings with the USDA in Washington. During the meeting they made it known that they were going to proceed to legislate 6 additional strains of E. coli as adulterants in ground beef. Translation, more testing. Although the USDA does not yet know the prevalence of the 6 non-O157 E.coli’s, or the incidence of illness caused by these pathogens, they are committed to the announced date of June 2012 to enact their decision. Being the only Canadian in the room, I felt I had nothing to lose by asking our legislative friends to the South why. Why make these other 6 E.coli’s adulterants? For me it made no sense. As per the CFIA’s response, which states that given you have a recognized HACCP program that has steps in place to control E.coli O157:H7 (i.e. proper dehiding procedures and microbiological interventions), there is no need to make more strains adulterants. In fact, the latest statistics have shown a downward trend in illness caused by E.coli O157:H7 in ground beef. Finally, both USDA and CFIA have the power to recall any product due to illness regardless if the underlying pathogen responsible is deemed an adulterant. Our hosts looked to the end of the table where I uncomfortably sat, and in a calm deliberate voice they said, “Why, why make 6 more E. coli’s adulterants? It’s simple, yes, sure, while rates of illness due to E. coli O157:H7 in ground beef are down, the fact remains, there are still incidents which means there are still harmful bacteria getting through the system.” Still bewildered I pressed on. “If you already know that bacteria is getting through the system based on the current testing for E.coli O157:H7, what more is additional testing going to do – make your hypothesis more right?” Am I wrong? Harvesters are already testing every lot of boneless beef and trimmings destined for grinding for E. coli O157:H7 prior to shipping. From these tests, the industry has acted and implemented a multiple hurdle approach in order to eliminate deadly pathogens from the beef supply. Yet, despite all of our best collective efforts, there are still reported illnesses due to E. coli in ground beef. So, what do we do now? While I appreciate the USDA /FSIS and CFIA’s historical move to focus their inspections on harvest, specifically on proper hide removal and the use of microbiological interventions, I’m yet unsure of the logic of more legislation. This will lead to more testing on both the part of the industry and our governments, which will inevitably lead us to the same conclusion; that there is still bacteria getting through the harvest process. Look, if we are already employing frequent testing in order to validate our processes in harvest and have determined we have not achieved zero incidence of E. coli in ground beef, why don’t we take those dollars and instead of investing them in additional testing to find out what we already know, let’s use them for joint research (government and industry) to discover and employ a technology that will result in a pasteurized carcass. Testing is a great way to validate that your interventions and good manufacturing practices are effective or in some cases ineffective. The hard, cold reality is, more testing won’t lead us to a new conclusion, to information we do not already know, or, to new innovative ways to make the North American beef supply safe; it never has. It is people, not test kits, working together in industry and government for a common goal, a common good that what will make the difference. So let’s take all those dollars that will now be spent in drafting new legislation, training inspectors and QA people, in changing HACCP programs, in creating test kits, in testing product and instead, use those resources to set up a brain trust, the best from the industry and government. Have them focus on a common goal, to come up with innovative ways and technologies that will result in pasteurized beef that will still have the same great taste that we enjoy today. “A man should look for what is there and not for what he thinks it should be.” Albert Einstein.

  • Industry News

    By: John Vatri Recently there was a vote in Canada. Surprise, surprise, it was to choose the greatest hockey player. Those voting were to consider who displayed the greatest skills, courage, teamwork and—most of all—the greatest leadership. The overwhelming choice was Bobby Baun. Why? Well for all you Yanks who do not live and breathe hockey folklore, Bobby Baun was the captain of the 1964 Toronto Maple Leafs. Not unlike today, the greatest team on Earth was struggling, yet finally had their chance to win Lord Stanley’s Cup. All they had to do for the cup was to get past their archrival, the Detroit Red Wings. With 10 minutes left in Game 6, Baun slid to the ice to block a shot from Gordie Howe. Although visibly injured, Baun continued to play until he finally collapsed. The arena fell silent as the captain was taken off the ice on a stretcher at the end of the period. Needless to say the fans were ecstatic when Baun returned for the final period and then roared uncontrollably when he fought on to score the winning overtime goal, forcing a Game 7, which eventually led to the Toronto Maple Leafs winning the Stanley Cup. So why was Bobby Baun voted the greatest hockey player of all time? Given the way Bobby fought back in the third period to lead his beloved Maple Leafs to a Stanley Cup may have been enough. However, the game became hockey folklore when it was discovered that Bobby led his beleaguered team to an overtime victory, fighting back and scoring the winning goal, all with a broken leg— a broken leg that was suffered in the third period prior to overtime. So I guess when I look at that tough third period, similarly we are all coming off the bench to play against our archrival team, nSTEC. I’m wondering where did our Bobby Bauns go? By now we are all aware of the existence of non-O157 Shiga toxin E coli, yet we still have not come together with our counterparts in the Canadian government to formulate a strategy, based on food science, to responsibly deal with these pathogens. We cannot and should not wait for a final rule from our beloved baseball-loving friends to the south. As well, we must independently consider all of the available science and based on what we learn in cooperation with the CFIA, take the appropriate actions at harvest and through the food chain. If the CFIA and Canadian industry came out for the overtime period and independently led our own scientific studies and compared our notes with our American counterparts, and then based on that science made decisions that led to responsible action, perhaps even the great Bobby Baun would be proud.

  • Industry News

    By: John Vatri When Neil Armstrong first stepped out on to the moon he uttered those iconic words, “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” When asked why he said those words he remarked that he felt it was appropriate given that his one small step represented the efforts of so many people, most he didn’t know, that allowed him to make that historic step. Recently I was given the opportunity to visit a harvester that was a friend and a supplier for 30 years, until four years ago when his establishment was taken off my approved supplier list. The removal of his plant was based on an audit I did where I sighted issues with heavy tag on animals, bad hide removal practices and a lack of thermal interventions. Basically, the absence of all the tools we now know are effective in eliminating pathogenic bacteria. When I had completed my initial audit, given our history and friendship, I made sure that I took the time to explain our concerns and how the proper investments in the right areas would not only help his business, it would also improve the entire industry. Unfortunately, at that time, the owner could not understand our concerns as he had always operated that way and did not see the benefits of changing. With his invitation I returned to that same facility some four years later, and some dramatic changes were made. He had opened up his line to provide more light and space, and chains were reengineered to ensure carcasses did not come into contact with each other. Employees had been trained to ensure they sanitized knives when making cuts to remove the hide, and a new hide puller that gently pulled the hide to the side replaced a hide puller that violently ripped the hide up, allowing for soils and manure to fall back on the carcass. He had also installed an array of interventions from cold water washes to hot water pasteurization to lactic and paracetic acid sprays. After I had finished my audit I let him know how impressed I was with the improvements and investments he had made in his operation. He downplayed the changes confessing that these were small improvements in a small operation. What he didn’t understand was that those small changes that small operations like his undergo are the small steps that eventually add up to the giant leaps we are able to make as an industry in food safety.

  • Industry News

    By: John Vatri Due to an unexpected sudden thaw this winter in Canada, I was faced with a deluge of water from my roof. Unfortunately I had not properly secured the down pipe to the eaves during the summer, and consequently water was pouring onto my driveway instead of being safely carried away into my neighbor’s garden. Given the potential this water could pool and eventually find its way into my basement, I decided I had to take action and suffer the elements to do a quick fix. I completed the operation in record time by loosely attaching the down spout to the eaves and securing it by leaning my garbage can against it. Just as I was about to return to my beer and the football game, I heard a voice from over the fence – “Hey, if you’re going to fix that, fix it right.” It was the voice of my neighbor Jack, a retired sales exec from DuPont and an ex-CFL quarterback (sorry, I forgot this is a U.S. magazine. CFL stands for Canadian Football League – you know the bush league of the north). As always, Jack came over with the right ladder and, more importantly, the right tools and skillfully fastened my down spout into the eaves trough with unquestionable permanence. You see, Jack comes from that generation where you fixed it right the first time. This past week I had the fortune of hearing Elizabeth Hagen, the USDA Under Secretary for Food Safety, speak at our NAMP conference. She spoke of a food safety strategy focusing on prevention not testing. Ah yes, prevention. Identifying hazards and putting in place process interventions to reduce or eliminate those hazards and testing to validate those process interventions. I often think if we as an industry could only agree on what is broken that we, like Jack, would sleep only when we knew it was fixed right.

  • Industry News

    By: John Vatri Over Christmas I’m forever reminded of a story my father would tell me about my grandfather, who was in the First World War. He would tell me that although his father would rarely if ever talk about the war, he did tell him an incredible tale that during one Christmas Eve soldiers on both sides, in their respective trenches, began to sing “Silent Night.” That prompted the soldiers to leave the protection of their trenches and walk across ‘no mans land’ to meet to exchange food, drink and Christmas wishes. After which, their commanders had them return to their respective sides in order to begin fighting again the next day. It was many years later that I found out to my astonishment that this amazing event did in fact take place. It is during the Christmas season that I’m once again reminded that pathogenic bacteria, unlike enemies in other great battles, even WWI, do not know the meaning of the word truce regardless of the time of year. One only needs to go to the respective government websites over Christmas to see more food borne illnesses leading to recalls due to E coli, Listeria and Salmonella. Even as Dr. James Marsden tells us that as an industry we can certainly celebrate some of the recent battles won against pathogenic bacteria, the war goes on and, incredibly, we are now opening our eyes to a more prolific enemy as FSIS considers expanding the definition of adulteration to include other possible disease causing strains of E coli. So we must continue to work together to keep the alliance between the farmers, harvesters and processers strong. It is through cooperation and the sharing of information that we will continue to discover new and unobtrusive ways to augment our processes to eliminate these pathogens, with the ultimate goal of a producing a truly pasteurized carcass married with processors that will handle the product in a way to ensure recontamination does not occur. I know that together as an industry if we continue to marry our unique processes with investment in new techniques and technologies to eliminate pathogenic bacteria, we will indeed one day achieve our own truce; who knows, maybe our grandchildren will have a few stories to tell about us. “The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing.” Albert Einstien

  • Industry News

    SAFETY ZONE BY JAMES MARSDEN from The Department of Health and Human Services recently published the Healthy People 2020 ten year national objectives for improving the health of all Americans. Healthy People 2020 involves 13 federal agencies and three federal departments including USDA. This is the second ten year Healthy People initiative. USDA was a co-leader of Healthy People 2010 and will continue to co-lead the food safety components of Healthy People 2020. USDA-FSIS relied heavily on Healthy People to set food safety benchmarks for E. coli O157:H7, Salmonella, Listeria monocytogenes and Campylobacter. The 2010 objectives for E. coli O157:H7 and Listeria monocytogenes were met. The objectives for Salmonella and Campylobacter were not. Under Healthy People 2020, specific pathogen reduction goals have been established for beef and poultry and other food commodities. The improvement goals per 100,000 people are: -- beef (from 200 cases to 180) -- poultry (from 258 to 232) -- dairy (from 786 to 707) -- fruits and nuts (from 311 to 280 cases) -- leafy vegetables (from 205 to 185) The goals have also been established by pathogen: -- 33 percent for Campylobacter (from 12.7 cases to 8.5 per 100,000) -- 50 percent for E. coli O157:H7 (1.2 cases to .6 cases) -- 25 percent for Listeria monocytogenes (.3 cases to .2 cases) -- 25 percent for Salmonella (15.2 cases to 11.4 cases) I am going out on a limb to predict that the ten year goals for beef will be met in the first year. The widespread implementation of effective slaughter interventions combined with the increasing use of pre-harvest and processing interventions are winning the war on E. coli O157:H7. I also predict that the objectives for Listeria monocytogenes will be met in the first year. RTE plants have made excellent progress in eliminating Lm from processing environments. Another contributing factor is that growth inhibitors which reduce the potential for outgrowth of Listeria during refrigerated storage are widely used across the industry. In addition, post-process pasteurization technologies, including High Hydrostatic Pressure are increasingly being used to virtually eliminate the risk of Listeria in consumer products. If my predictions are even close, this means that USDA-FSIS will be putting a great deal of emphasis on controlling Salmonella and Campylobacter in raw poultry products. The focus on E. coli O157:H7 will shift to leafy vegetables which are regulated by FDA. The next ten years will be challenging for both of these industries.

  • Industry News

    Joining the Class of 2010 Cardinal Meat Specialists’ Ralph Cator among 12 new Meat Industry Hall of Fame Members. from: Canadian Meat Business - September/October 2010 Issue Leading the list of industry greats being nominated into the Meat Industry Hall of Fame’s (MIHoF) Class of 2010 is Ralph Cator, founder and chairman of the board of Cardinal Meat Specialists, a major supplier of beef patties and further processed meats based in Mississauga, Ont. He is the first Canadian to be inducted into the hall. Cator is one of 12 new members chosen from a list of over 50 nominees by the hall’s board of trustees and inductees from last year’s inaugural class. The nominees included an all-star list of executives, academicians, innovators and association leaders from all sectors of the industry. The Induction Ceremony for the new MIHoF members will be on Oct. 30, 2010 at the Fairmont Scottsdale in Scottsdale, Arizona. The gala event will begin with a Reception at 5:00 p.m. and the evening’s festivities will conclude with the North American Meat Processors Association (NAMP) President’s Reception, Dinner & Ball which closes the association’s Annual Outlook Conference. “It will be a special evening to formally honour a ‘who’s who’ of the industry,” said Chuck Jolley, MIHoF president and co-founder. “Our thanks to our board of trustees and our members who elected an elite group from an impressive list of nominees. We are thrilled to be able to induct people who truly represent the best of the best.” Cator started his meat career at the age of eight while working after school in one of his father’s butcher shops in Toronto. By the ripe old age of 18, he found himself managing one of those shops. An ambitious young man, he soon persuaded his father to sell him part ownership in all four stores. Cator founded Cardinal Meat Specialists, now one of Canada’s largest producers of ground beef patties, in 1966 to serve the rapidly growing food service market. He focused on being an innovative player in the meat industry by seeking out the best minds in each field and then capitalized on their knowledge. He continues to be a huge believer in “no one of us is as smart as all of us” and made this a key business strategy while driving the company’s growth. Cator was always active in the industry and knew that expanding the knowledge of the Cardinal team was imperative to remaining innovative and competitive. By joining the National Association of Meat Purveyors in 1969, He established Cardinal’s long-standing relationship with NAMP and in 1992 became the association’s first Canadian president. Cator helped broaden the association’s scope to become a truly North American organization leading the group to change their name to the North American Meat Processors Association. At the forefront To keep his company of the forefront of the industry, he was always seeking new and improved technologies. Cardinal’s ability to differentiate itself from the competition was driven in large part by its innovation. His efforts to expand the business and provide superior products to the market led Cardinal to become the first meat processor to utilize many new technologies that have become industry standards today. Under Cator’s leadership, the company continued a steady introduction of new equipment, production methods and product innovation, many of which are the basis of Cardinal’s leading position today. Always a risk taker, he spearheaded a bold move for Cardinal introducing Canada’s first national brand premium burger in foodservice: Cardinal’s Roadhouse Beef Burger. Today, Cardinal’s product line covers the gamut of meatbased proteins. Pork mini-ribs, pulled beef au jus, meatloaf and gravy, and Kettle Cooked Ribs are all on their menu. In 1990, Cator turned over day-to-day management of the company to his two sons, Mark and Brent, allowing him to return to school to pursue his love of art. He graduated from Humber College in 1992 and soon after, became a licentiate of the Professional Photographers of Canada – a second career, which he pursues to this day. Next generation Cator continues as chairman of the board for Cardinal Meat Specialists, advising his son Brent, who now owns the company and continues the growth of this third generation business at an astounding pace. His lifetime of service is far broader than his accomplishments in the meat industry. During his term with NAMP, he was presented with the NAMP President’s Award, The Angus Award and The Fifty Year Service Award. He has also served as the Foundation Chair for the Canadian Association of Family Enterprise and is an Associate of the Trillium Health Centre Foundation. Along with a successful stock photography business, his photographs have been used to promote such things as the Canadian Open Golf Tournament and charitable causes such as the United Way, Rally for the Cure, the Hospital for Sick Children and Habitat for Humanity. Other inductees Other members of MIHoF’s Class of 2010 include: • Richard Bond, CEO, president and director of Tyson Foods Inc. • William D. Farr, of Farr Feeders (deceased) • Joel Johnson, chairman, president and CEO of Hormel Foods Corporation • H. Kenneth Johnson, vice president of meat science for the National Live Stock and Meat Board; executive director of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association • Ray Kroc, founder and chairman of McDonald’s Corporation (deceased) • Dr. Roger Mandigo, professor at the animal science department of the University of Nebraska • Robert E. Rust, professor emeritus, animal science at Iowa State University • Col. Harland Sanders, founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken (deceased) • Dr. Jeff W. Savell, regents professor and E.M. "Manny" Rosenthal, chairholder in animal science at Texas A&M University • Deven Scott, vice president - member services for the American Meat Institute; executive vice president of NAMP • Dave Thomas, founder, CEO, Wendy’s Old Fashioned Hamburgers (deceased)

  • Industry News

    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?

  • News

    Walmart’s food safety chief outlines new beef rules By Rita Jane Gabbett The new beef safety requirements Walmart announced today for its beef suppliers will include asking further processors to validate a 2 log reduction in pathogen counts from their food safety interventions and slaughter facilities to validate a 3 log reduction by June 2011, according to Walmart Vice President for Food Safety Frank Yiannas. By June 2012, Walmart is asking slaughter facilities to increase that intervention validation to a total of a 5 log reduction. In an interview with Meatingplace, Yiannas outlined the specifics of Walmart’s new beef safety protocols. What specifically are you asking beef processors to do here? We are asking beef slaughter suppliers to implement an intervention or combination of interventions between post-hide removal and final trim production that will consistently produce, at a minimum, a 3 log reduction of the pertinent microorganisms, i.e. pathogens. We want them to achieve that reduction within that stated timeframe. Thereafter, we are asking for another goal of a cumulative 5 log reduction, which would be an additional 2 logs, by June 2012. What are you asking of further processors, who do not slaughter? For ground beef suppliers that are not vertically integrated and are buying trim and grinding it, we are asking them to implement an intervention or combination of interventions that achieve a minimum of a 2 log reduction of pertinent microorganisms by June 2011. Some processors may already be achieving these types of reductions. How are you asking them to verify that they have achieved these pathogen reductions? That’s a good point. The reality is, the beef industry has made great strides. But what we have seen is that not all of them have introduced the same interventions and certainly there are opportunities for them to scientifically validate that their interventions are working. So I think one of the unique points here is that we are asking for scientific validation. Our opinion of scientific validation is: well-founded based on a consensus and stakeholder input. So we have sought input from leading food safety experts like James Marsden and Jim Dickson and others. So our point of scientific validation is exactly that. If they have naturally occurring organisms and they can measure these reductions, certainly we would recognize that as scientific validation. Certainly if USDA got to the point where they approved surrogates that are not harmful we would recognize that. We would recognize reference to scientific literature reviews. What we are looking for is very similar to what you see posted on USDA’s Web site as what they interpret validation to mean. So are you saying if a scientific review shows that the food safety intervention process the supplier is using normally achieves a certain log reduction, that would constitute scientific validation of that supplier’s process? That would be considered scientific validation. The only thing we are asking is that if they are using a scientific review from literature, that they absolutely have confidence and can persuade us that the variability in their plant is covered in that scientific review. Because one of the things we often see is that these studies in pilot plants are often highly controlled. They need to make sure the pilot study reflects the variability in their plant. One of the things FSIS is proposing right now could result in processors doing more in-plant testing to validate their processes, but it sounds like you are not absolutely mandating in-plant validation testing by your suppliers. Is that accurate? We are not absolutely mandating in-plant validation testing as long as the scientific review they are using is really representative of what is happening in their plant. That said, just as USDA’s views are evolving, ours might as well. In what way? As the entire food safety community starts having more thorough discussions on validations, the whole view of what is considered an appropriate validation might evolve and our views may evolve along with that. I’m giving you our views on validation today.

  • Industry News

    By: John Vatri Most that know me know that when I travel to the U.S. I enjoy debating American politics, especially with Americans. There is a lot of speculation as to why I would engage in such potentially harmful behavior. Many, including the owner of Cardinal, believe I do it just to mix things up with our American brethren. I have come to realize these animated conversations really originate in my love for America. Any Canadian that travels cannot help being somewhat amazed, given that our neighbors are the greatest military power in the world, and we… well, we have a boat. Yet, as North Americans, we are able to move nearly effortlessly back and forth across a peaceful, undefended border. So, how did we build such trust and mutual respect between our two countries given the many challenges we are presented on a daily basis? More importantly, how could we have trusted a militaristic country driven by capitalism to do the right thing over these past two hundred years? Perhaps it’s our common value system, democracies, capitalism, and our shared approach to problem solving. Maybe the same is true of our businesses? How is it that we are all driven by the Capitalistic spirit, yet when I have the opportunity to speak to others in the food business, the first thing they share is the many, many sleepless nights trying to answer that one tough question we are all confronted with, how do we continue to feed people with beef that is bullet-proof, regardless of how it is handled by the consumer. Over the past weekend I had an opportunity to go to the U.S. (at a NAMP ”North American Meat Processors Association” meeting in Chicago) and meet with many of our friends in the industry and in our respective governments. Although as capitalists there were discussions around the beef markets labor and the cost of gas, what carried the day was our shared concern that, above all else, no one can come to harm by eating beef products. I can say first-hand from observing others during presentations about past recalls that just the thought that products would cause harm to others elicited overwhelming emotion in the room. Food causing harm is an untenable situation and has focused the efforts of the entire group including the government to improving the system. There is a willingness now for our collective industry to embrace the reality of our situation. Speakers on both sides of the aisle concede looking for answers in ground beef is not the best deployment of limited resources when the robust testing for E. coli O157:H7 is already providing all the answers and industry is paying for it. Yes, we know where the beef is and, more importantly, we know where the presumptive beef is, and although we capitalists have our collective goal of making a profit, I believe we also have our collective humanity that will trump all. It is this collective humanity that is forging a new willingness on the farm to clean and vaccinate animals, and it is fueling harvesters and manufactures alike to seek and invest in new and scientifically proven microbiological interventions. It will ultimately compel us all to take what we already know and what the industry is providing us every day, then acting on it to produce a pasteurized raw material.

  • Industry News

    By: John Vatri We’ve learned a lot in recent years about the small players who are raising hormone-free, antibiotic-free animals. With interest in such product increasing, we needed to find out as much as we could about the product and the facilities in which hormone-free, antibiotic-free animals are raised. After contacting potential suppliers and vetting documents certifying their authenticity as suppliers of hormone-free, antibiotic-free beef, we decided to go to the source the farm in order to see the process for ourselves. I visited a farm and met with a farmer who specializes in the raising hormone-free, antibiotic-free animals. His philosophy is that his way of raising cattle allows the animals to do what they were created to do, live outside year-round, and graze on natural grasses, and, of course, remain hormone and antibiotics-free. As such, you will not find any temperature-controlled barns on the property, or buildings of any kind for that matter. The farmer pointed out that massive barns kept at 65 degrees Fahrenheit are for humans, and that animals don’t want 65 degrees Fahrenheit, they were meant to be outside year-round. He called his approach the "conscientious farmer." As we toured the farm I shared that as interest in the antibiotic-free, hormone-free market was growing, my biggest challenge was supply. While there is enough supply through his farms and the other farmers he has converted, I could not purchase the boneless beef for food safety reasons, as a significant portion of his animals were being processed at harvesters that did not meet our food safety intervention standards. By now it should be clear to the government that food science research has determined that multiple heat-based interventions should be mandatory in the industry. I explained to the surprised farmer that my dilemma is that "antibiotic-free, hormone-free" does not mean safe and that like all of my supply, it must be harvested at a Cardinal-approved harvester. Unfortunately for me, and others in the industry, harmful micro-organisms do not discriminate based on the quality, price or whether the boneless beef is free of antibiotics. The likelihood of E. coli O157:H7 occurring in boneless beef is not based on how the animal is raised, rather it is a culmination of how it is raised and harvested. Harvest houses are where E. coli cross-contaminates with the meat, and it is unfortunate that many small facilities are challenged by not having enough critical mass to implement the multiple critical interventions needed to properly reduce and/or eliminate microbiological hazards to an acceptable level. There are two issues hand. How to convince those that are marketing consciously raised beef to ensure that they are harvested in a facility that understands the importance of these food safety standards and base their purchasing decisions on food safety rather than cost. Secondly, and no less important, is for the industry to develop cost-effective interventions that can work for small harvesters, i.e. as effective as steam and hot water wash systems. As my visit ended, the ‘conscientious farmer’ committed to me that he would continue to move other farmers to the ‘conscientious way’, and I, in turn, promised I would continue to convince those buying his animals to harvest them at the right facilities and to drive the industry to develop cost-effective interventions that are true "interventions" rather than "careful handling" as a way to supposedly destroy harmful bacteria. I believe it occurred to both of us as I drove away that day, that perhaps the conscientious farmer had just met the conscientious manufacturer. John Vatri is the director of food safety at Cardinal Meat Specialists Ltd., one of Canada’s leading burger and cooked protein processors.

  • Announcement

    Safety Zone By: James Marsden Send James a Tip (The views and opinions expressed in this blog are strictly those of the author.) For almost 20 years, I have heard people from the meat industry say “if consumers would only cook their burgers, the E. coli problem would go away”. Here are 10 reasons why the “just cook it” approach will not work: 1. E. coli O157:H7 is a unique pathogen. The levels of this organism necessary to cause infection are very low. 2. The severity of the disease E. coli O157:H7 can cause, especially in children is devastating. 3. In many cases, parents order hamburgers for their children and rely on restaurants to cook them properly. In restaurants, parents really have no control over whether the hamburgers they order are sufficiently cooked to eliminate possible contamination from E. coli O157:H7. 4. If consumers unknowingly bring this pathogen into their kitchens, it is almost impossible to avoid cross contamination. Even the smallest amount of contamination on a food that is not cooked can cause illness. Many of the reported cases of E. coli O157:H7 have involved ground beef that was clearly cooked at times and temperatures sufficient to inactivate E. coli O157:H7. Some other vector, i.e. cross contamination was probably involved. 5. Even if consumers attempt to use thermometers to measure cooking temperature, it is difficult to properly measure the internal temperature of hamburger patties. They would have to use an accurate thermometer and place the probe exactly into the center of the patty. In addition, the inactivation of E. coli O157:H7 is dependent on cooking time and temperature. For example, if they cook to 155 degrees F, they should hold that temperature for 16 seconds. It is not realistic to expect that consumers, many of which are children will scientifically measure the internal temperature of hamburgers. 6. The way ground beef is packaged, it is virtually impossible to remove it from packages or chubs and make patties without spreading contamination if it is present. 7. Sometimes ground beef appears to be cooked when it really isn’t. There is a phenomenon called “premature browning” that can make ground beef appear to be fully cooked when in fact it is undercooked. 8. E. coli O157:H7 may be present in beef products other than ground beef. For example, in non-intact beef products, including tenderized steaks that are not always cooked to temperatures required for inactivation. 9. There have been many cases and outbreaks of E. coli O157:H7 associated with foods that are not cooked (i.e. fresh cut produce). 10. As Senator Patrick Leahy said after the 1993 Jack-in-the-Box outbreak – “The death penalty is too strong a punishment for undercooking a hamburger”. He was right –consumers will make mistakes. There needs to be a margin of safety so that undercooking does not result in disease or death. For these and many other reasons, the problem of E. coli O157:H7 in ground beef and other food products must be solved. Of course proper cooking is important. However, telling consumers to “just cook it” is not the answer.

  • Industry News

    Recently, FSIS released Notice 05-09, “Measures to Address E. coli O157:H7 at Establishments that Receive, Grind, or otherwise Process Raw Beef Products” and Canada has just rolled out “Annex O.” Essentially both documents are the same in that they are government’s best efforts at rolling out politically acceptable rules that will guide companies to do what they should be doing on their own. Over the years I have learned just how powerful and powerless the government can be. The slaughter and farmer community are lobbying to make O157 someone else’s cost and responsibility through a very powerful lobby effort, and the smaller companies are crying that the new rules will put us all out of business. The government does not have the all-knowing magic wand to fix various industries issues and tries to provide enough science and tools to get the industry to fix situations themselves. O157 starts at the farm and is spread by slaughter. It is best reduced or eliminated at that stage. The whole science and government food safety agencies know this, yet the industry continues to debate it…. insanity at its best. That doesn’t mean we all don’t have a critical part to play -- i.e., grinders should specify controls at harvest in our specifications, plant audits and consumers cooking their meats. (I will write on what to look for in a slaughter audit next edition.) The best thing that has come along is heat treatment at slaughter coupled with multiple interventions and robust testing. Science has proven this works. Now we need our trade associations and the companies they represent to all align on a message to government that allows government to enforce what, as an industry we know is right. We must do what we can to protect consumers and not wait for FSIS to force it. I was recently asked a question: Why would a packer invest in “N-60” testing and put their entire day’s production (or lot) in jeopardy of testing positive, when they are not required “by law” to do so? My answer: All of the major packers in the U.S. and Canada are currently doing the N-60 testing (not necessarily in a standardized format ... which we need to get to). They do this because they can minimize their exposure in a recall situation down to a very small lot size making it a damn good economic decision. Going the extra step to provide the label would be a minor cost and potentially even a savings when executed. The large slaughterers also need to stay leading edge in order to ensure that the large-end operators (i.e. Wal-Mart, McDonalds, Sysco, etc.) will continue to purchase from them. Any small slaughter operation that does not take this investment step is at risk of losing all of their business as the FSIS policies progress (once again a smart economic decision). It’s not a matter of if; it’s a matter of when. Brent Cator is president of Mississauga, Ont.-based Cardinal Meat Specialists, one of Canada’s leading burger and cooked protein processors. Source: