Noting that “pre-harvest food safety interventions can prevent foodborne illness by helping to reduce risk in the farm-to-table continuum,” the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service seeks to identify best management practices for beef producers. In cooperation with APHIS and ARS, the agency has announced a public “pre-harvest food safety for cattle” meeting on Wednesday, November 9 in Riverdale, Maryland.

Through this process, FSIS, will seek input on pre-harvest pathogen control strategies designed to reduce the likelihood that beef will be contaminated with pathogens of public health concern, such as Shiga toxin- producing E. coli and Salmonella, during the slaughter process.

In the meeting notice, FSIS notes it began promoting pre-harvest beef safety in 2008, and in 2010 published cattle pre-harvest guidelines to inform beef slaughter establishments of interventions that can be applied before slaughter, such as on-site farm management controls, to help reduce E. coli O157:H7 shedding in cattle.

FSIS currently recommends that slaughter establishments procure their cattle from beef producers that implement one or more documented pre-harvest management practices to reduce fecal shedding of enteric pathogens. The agency acknowledges that research on pre-harvest interventions is ongoing and effective methods are yet to be discovered. Current research suggests certain probiotics and vaccines have the potential to be effective in reducing fecal shedding in cattle.

Stated goals for the meeting on pre-harvest food safety for cattle are:

  1. Food safety improvement through identification and development of effective pre-harvest practices.
  2. Creating an increased focus on pre-harvest food safety and the identification and development of incentives for producers and processors to adopt effective pre-harvest practices.
  3. Increased producer engagement to emphasize their importance in the overall food safety system.
  4. Finding effective solutions through discrete projects, including demonstration projects of new technologies and implementation of best practices.

The agency hopes the meeting will result in identification of effective and practical pre-harvest practices, identification of incentives for producers and processors to adopt such measures and establishment of an ongoing dialogue regarding pre-harvest food safety.

Ultimately, FSIS, APHIS, and ARS plan to apply the information toward development of a “best practice” guidance document. The draft guidance document would be made available for comment-and ultimately for use by all stakeholders.

Quoted in Food Safety News, USDA Under Secretary of Food Safety Elisabeth Hagen reassures producers regarding the agency’s role in pre-harvest management. "We are not looking to go on the farm, we are not looking to regulate producers at FSIS, but everything that happens on the farm impacts what we do, it impacts the amount of risk that has to be handled throughout the system."

For more information on the meeting and how to register, view the full notice from FSIS.