Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Tonic of Time...and Reflection....

Now that nearly a week has passed since my near coronary regarding the recall at Adam's Farm, more information has been garnered....and some solid opinions are forming.
First, the very potential for a recall seems a little closer to home. Not only are we not in a vacuum, but the processing of our beef is controlled by others and comes in contact with other farms and individuals. We've been cruising along growing grass, managing animals, developing customer networks and dealing with the bumps along the way. Chugging along as one might say. In the past, we've not thought deeply enough that we may need to call on our customers to announce "there's a potential problem...we need to recall the beef we sold you"!
Secondly, there seems to be more risk, or at least awareness of, that there are more pathogenic bacteria in our world and in our food as well. Be it in our raw fruits and vegetables or our meat. Headline news and solid science supports this observation. By recent USDA accounts, 28% of all the beef carcasses in the USA carry detectable amounts of pathogenic E. coli. While our meat processing industry does not look like a contemporary counterpart to Upton Sinclair's account of the early 20th century meat packing industry, we do need a dose of reality that meat processing is not and cannot easily be made into an aseptic process. Could we do better? YES! How? There lies the challenge! Not only did a consumer blatantly disregard any and all reasonable meat handling practices, then to have subsequent testing on the the plant and the other farm's products come clean, only to have my pleas for tightened testing fall on deaf ears. "See, the system worked, we're clean, the USDA and Adams did their jobs"!
Thirdly, we're back to thinking more deeply about how we can tighten up our farm to keep safe, clean, transparent and accountable. Not that we lost sight of this, but since we are not at an industrial scale that seems to promote the proliferation of pathogenic E. coli, we tended to rest on some laurels. We thought since we use a processor that does not deal with such industrially produced animals and is just another small-time business trying to fill a need and do it well and cleanly, we should be pretty safe. Well, it seems pathogenic E. coli appears to be around these parts- in central New England. In an unemotional, coldly scientific analysis, the large amount of food that got processed and how many people ate it and did not get sick might suggest something about the processes involved. Something is working....though emotionally, we NEVER want to be in a situation where we slam the doors shut after the horses escape! So, observe, test, change, act.....never rest on your laurels!
So, we've insisted on lot numbering on our product so we can deal decisively if a recall should haunt our doorstep. This will start on our next lot. We've asked to meet with the USDA to learn about their testing and sanitation regulations. We may visit new ways to bring in independent testing. This is expensive, but maybe a cooperative system to share the costs could be started? When we lose control at such a critical step and hand off our animals to someone else, we need new lenses in our glasses!
Since it is a safe assessment to contend that we live in a world populated with very adaptable bacteria, please handle all of your food with an extra dose of care! Wash those fruits and veggies, properly defrost and cook that meat and properly handle all leftovers. Can you hear your mother in the background.....?

Monday, January 18, 2010

Warning Shot Over The Bow....Recall at Adams Farm

Hello! What a day we've had when a customer calls us to inform us that our beef processor has been involved in a beef recall. An amazing tribute to those who are paying VERY close attention to developments in the spheres of food safety. A well deserved hats-off!

Our beef is processed by Adam's Farm of Athol, MA and they were just involved in a beef recall that affected over 2,000 lb of beef from local farms in our area. The link is here:

The official recall is here:

While our beef is not involved in this recall, a shot of panic shot through my very being as the beef we are selling was processed the day after the beef in question was processed. After a healthy dose of expletives and OMGS, I regained some of my composure and called several key people. Among them my wife, a research biologist who is in the midst of some of the best minds in biology (and is one of them!), to help me gather data, information and composure. And a call to Adam's Farm.

The recall is a result of a consumer falling ill from consuming pathogenic E.coli, from ground beef from a farm that had its beef processed at Adam's Farm on November 11, 2009. Since Adams Farm processed beef from 3 farms that day, all beef processed that day was recalled as a precaution. I learned by the end of today that the testing results from the other two farms' products were complete and no pathogenic E.coli was found. A single source was identified and no detectable cross contamination (by USDA protocols) was found.

It was reported to me later that the consumer who fell ill consumed the ground beef raw as tar-tar AFTER having left the beef out at room temperature for 24 hrs. My microbiologists, on honorary retainer, say that this makes for incredible bacterial multiplication......or should we say- exponential (super size me !) growth!

However, now that the cat is out of the bag, I am asking Adams and the USDA just how often testing occurs, as by USDA accounts, testing is characterized as "random-though-frequent enough to catch potential problems". I have a very hard time with this assertion since a month has passed since the contamination event occurred. As of today, I'm not sure if there was testing conducted during the processing session of November 12, 2009. I am awaiting confirmation. I am convinced that the facility undergoes extensive cleaning and sanitizing at the end of each day, so there should have been no cross contamination from the processing session of November 11, 2009 to our processing session on November 12, 2009.

The official guidelines for testing are here:

I've also looked into independent testing of our own beef, and what I found was a very expensive routine to sample, transport (for chain of custody integrity) and then testing.

Should we be doing more testing ? Can we bear the weight of independent 100% testing for our own beef ? Can we gain enough confidence from the current USDA practices ? We've chosen our processors on the basis of cleanliness and demonstration of capability and transparency. We are also at the mercy (or benefit?) of the agencies charged with assuring safety and wholesomeness.

Why do we bring this to your attention? It is of high concern to us and we expect it to be of concern to you. We are now on the trail of discovery to learn in greater detail how things get tested in USDA-inspected facilities. Maybe we can promote changes.....certainly become a squeaky wheel !

Warning Shot Over The Bow....Recall at Adams Farm

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Industrial Food and Unintended Consequences

Hello all ! Long post, and some fun things have been rolling across the big screens and the big press lately! If you've not seen Food, Inc. and you are interested in getting a feel for how industrial food is produced- then you should see it! For those who already know some of this big story, we have a new twist to add to the subject- a New York Times expose on ammoniated ground beef

Ammonia treated ground beef is coming under scrutiny as are the very agencies that oversee the safety and wholesomeness of the food we eat. One has to wonder, what will we learn next ??

Give it some thought whenever you eat out, or your children eat lunches prepared at school, or you shop through the aisles of the market. Whatever your take- be it a triumph of technology to be able to produce sheer mountains of food so cheaply, or an abomination to the very nature of what helps define us- what we eat.

No, I'm not advocating a wholesale rebuttal to large scale agriculture, but I do urge you constantly ask......."WHY?"

Why so cheap ? Why the other ingredients ? Why are the regulations written so ? Who is in charge ? A big part of the ANSWER is YOU...with your food dollars. VERY powerful ! Give it some thought ! Shunt a portion of your food dollars to.........
You fill in the blank !
Thank you and be well !