Innovative bacon production processes meet food safety standards

Bacon can be produced safely under certain processing methods that fall outside of new guidelines released by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA).

That’s the finding of newly completed research carried out by Maple Leaf Foods and the University of Alberta that looked at the possible growth of Staphylococcus aureus and Clostridium perfringens during a six-hour cooling regime for producing bacon.

“We’ve been processing and eating bacon for a long time, but the CFIA had some issues with innovations we were intending in our Winnipeg plant,” explains Dr. Peter Slade, Senior Director of Science with Maple Leaf Foods. “Any processes that fall outside of CFIA requirements have to be validated to prove their safety. We found we didn’t have all of the necessary data, which is what led to this project.”

The innovation in question is a U.S.-style bacon product that needs a lower cook temperature than other bacon products in order to keep the desirable slicing characteristics consumers want.

Normally, a bacon cook process will heat the product into the high 50 C range. Maple Leaf’s new U.S.-style bacon only reaches temperatures of 48 – 55 C, so the company had to prove that the lower cooking temperatures followed by slower cooling rate could still result in a safe product for consumers.

“We normally use models to satisfy regulators that we are within safety parameters, but in this case, both European and U.S. models for Staph have conditions within them that don’t cover the entire range of the bacon temperature curve during both the heating and cool down processes,” says Dr. Slade.

To meet CFIA guidelines, researchers evaluated several processing scenarios: a cooling regime to bring the bacon temperature from 48.8 C to 26.6 C within one hour followed by cooling to 4 C and the impact of cooling from 48.8 C to 12.7 C in six hours followed by cooling to 4 C. Cooling from 54 C to 26.6 C in three hours, followed by cooling to 4 C was evaluated to assess industrially relevant parameters.

No growth of S. aureus occurred during cooling regardless of how the bacon was cooled, not even during slow cooling over six hours. During cooking and cooling of bacon, no growth of S. aureus occurred even when bacon was slowly cooled from 48.8 to 12.7 C over six hours.

This means processors can use these temperature profiles as models to demonstrate production of safe bacon. As well, they can use these research results to seek CFIA for approval of alternative bacon  processing methods.

“These results support the safety of bacon produced with a six hour cooling regime,” says Dr. Slade. “Industry now has the data necessary to submit to CFIA to demonstrate that different cooling rates over six hours will not compromise the safety of bacon cooked initially at lower temperatures.”

Why is this innovation important?

Food safety: Bacon is being produced safely and consumers can consume bacon products with confidence.
Innovation: Giving industry the flexibility to vary their production processes will lead to new product innovations for Canadian food processors.
Economics: New product innovations could lead to new market opportunities, benefitting not only food processors but also their supply chain partners.

What does this innovation mean to Canada’s food processing industry?

Study results can be used by the meat industry to gain approval from CFIA to cool bacon slowly (i.e. over a  six-hour period) without affecting Canada’s high food safety standards.

About Maple Leaf Foods

Maple Leaf Foods is Canada’s leading consumer packaged meats company with leading brands such as Maple Leaf®, Maple Leaf Prime®, Maple Leaf Natural Selections®, Schneiders®, Schneiders Country Naturals® and Mina™. The company employs approximately 12,000 people in its operations across Canada and exports to more than 20 global markets, including the U.S. and Asia. www.mapleleaffoods.com.

About the project team

Dr. Peter Slade is Senior Director, Science at Maple Leaf Foods. Dr. Slade obtained his BSc in Food Science and Microbiology (Hons) at the University of Leeds and holds a PhD in Food Science from the University of Guelph.

Dr. Lynn McMullen is a professor in the Department of Agricultural, Food and Nutritional Science at the  University of Alberta. Her areas of interest include control of pathogens in meat using lactic acid bacteria and bacteriocins or other natural antimicrobials and understanding how the microbiota of meat products influences safety and quality. Dr. McMullen obtained her PhD from the University of Alberta in Food Microbiology.

Theme

Food safety

Project

Investigations on survival of Staphylococcus aureus and Clostridium perfringens during bacon processing

Industry partner

Maple Leaf Foods, Mississauga ON

Principal investigator

Dr. Peter Slade, Maple Leaf Foods

Dr. Lynn McMullen, University of Alberta

Anticipated completion date

31 March 2015