Providing safe, wholesome food is the most important responsibility of the pork industry. Ensuring pork food safety is a complex undertaking that requires awareness of the role that everyone plays in the food chain. On the farm, many factors can affect the safety of pork, which is why today’s farming operations employ a wide variety of technology and techniques to minimize food safety threats.
The U.S. arguably has the safest food supply chain in the world as a result of the diligently kept rules and regulations in place protecting consumers. The U.S. government provides services in the areas of inspection, education, data collection, research and security at federal, state and local levels. In particular, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) plays a critical role in assuring the safety of the commercial supply of pork in the U.S.
New technologies and adoption of scientifically sound methods help us prevent and minimize food safety threats. One of the most important developments to improve food safety is the shift from raising pigs outdoors to raising them indoors.
Top reasons pork food safety is enhanced by housing pigs indoors:
- The buildings are designed and maintained to keep out predators, parasites and vermin — vital to prevention of pig injury and disease
- Feed and water are less susceptible to contamination
- Climate control prevents dramatic fluctuations in temperature that may negatively impact the health of pigs at various life stages
- Facilities have strict biosecurity practices to help ensure that diseases are not accidentally introduced to the animals; outdoor facilities are much harder to control in this regard. For example, visitors may be required to sign in and out, state when they last visited another farm, wear special boots and coveralls — even shower before entering and shower upon exiting. These security protocols lead to healthier pigs and a safer food supply.
The truth about Trichinosis
Many believe they must cook pork until it’s well-done. According to the USDA, that’s not necessary. The notion that pork must be cooked well-done dates back a few generations when a pathogen called Trichinella spiralis that causes trichinosis was a problem for pig farmers and for consumers. Today, we know that Trichinella spiralis is transmitted to pigs as a result of poor feeding practices and exposure to pathogen-infected animals.
Elimination of Trichinosis
Biosecurity measures on pig farms have become very sophisticated and effective. The widespread adoption of improved feeding practices and high levels of biosecurity and hygiene have virtually eliminated the presence of trichinae in the United States. Because most pigs raised for food today are housed in barns instead of outdoors, facility workers can carefully manage barn biosecurity to help keep out disease-causing pathogens. Now that the parasite related to trichinosis is virtually eliminated, the risk of trichinosis from U.S. pork is virtually eliminated, too.
We naturally want to defend against any threat of illness to our pigs, workers or the public. Some diseases that are significant threats to pigs do not pose a threat to humans and therefore, are unfamiliar to many people. Diseases can be introduced to a farm many ways — through physical contact with another animal, a person or an inanimate object (such as clothing, water or soil), or through inhalation of germs floating in the air. Because of this reality, biosecurity is an ongoing process comprising various management practices designed to minimize or, whenever possible, prevent the introduction of diseases onto a farm.
1Calculation performed by the National Pork Board based on U.S. Census Bureau statistics, 2009.