Physical contamination of meat, also referred to as the root of all contaminations before microbial tests are conducted, is defined as the physical material in food that does not belong to the product.
This can originate from the slaughterhouse during the physical removal of hides and through the physical contact of faeces with the carcass. Contamination can also occur as a result of contact between dirty equipment and meat products in the production area. Knives that have been placed accidentally in the packaging of meat can furthermore cause contamination of meat products as well as water contamination from microbiologically free tap-water. Although the City of Windhoek conducts tests on city water, occasionally indicator organisms like coliform (bacteria) are detected in meat products, which can result in bacteria built-up.
Meat contamination can also result from hazardous substances such as glass pieces, bone-chips and metal fragments, which can consequently cause serious damage to humans when ingested and can have huge financial implications for Meatco.
According to Laboratory Manager, Kalihulu Shapwa, Meatco has put measures in place to control metal contamination, where metal detector machines sense metals that accidentally fall into boxes. They are situated in the Deboning and Red Offal Departments. Unfortunately, if an object is non-metallic and accidentally falls into a box during production, it cannot be detected.
“The Quality Assurance department conducts regular Employee Involvement through Communication meetings, where employees are encouraged to adhere to and practice honesty, for example, in case jewellery is misplaced in the production area,” says Shapwa.
“Most government agencies, food producers or distributors as well as Meatco are striving to protect the health of their customers and consumers and this remains an objective and responsibility. We try to avoid incidents such as those of the Listeriosis outbreak in South Africa because these physical hazards cause huge economic losses to the business and people lose jobs due to simple controllable processes,” Shapwa concluded.
Large government agencies like the United States Food and Drug Administration and the United States Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service prohibits the sale of any contaminated food products in the US market or recalls such product if detected. Thus, Meatco constantly ensures the safety of consumers from the effects of physical contamination while enjoying its meat through investigations and controls of physical contaminants in food, which are conducted throughout the whole processing chain at the laboratory.