The Omaha World-Herald reports that changes in the meatpacking industry are driven by consumer demands and the government to control deadly pathogens such as E. coli and mad cow disease, also known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE.
In recent years, packing plants have invested money to make plants cleaner and to cleanse carcasses more thoroughly.
In 2002, Swift & Co.’s Greeley plant recalled 18.6 million pounds of ground beef because of contamination by E. coli O157:H7, which can cause serious illness and even death. It became the nation’s largest meat recall ever.
The recall was a “life-changing” event for the plant, said Keith Belk, an animal-science professor at Colorado State University. “It’s been truly remarkable the change in the entire culture inside that plant.”
Swift washes cattle hides and then puts carcasses through two high-temperature pasteurization washes. Swift is the first company to implement double pasteurization at every facility.
The industry’s efforts have reduced contamination by 78 percent from 2002 to 2004, according to the Food Safety and Inspection Service. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cites a 42 percent decline in E. coli infections from 1996 to 2004.