This Little Piggy Came From Omaha, NE
By: Aaron Beczkiewicz
Given that food is such an integral part of daily life, it is not surprising that concepts related to food are often represented in childhood rhymes like “This little piggy went to the market…” While I am pretty confident none of us really understood what “went to the market” meant the first time we were introduced to that rhyme, our understanding evolved as we grew and developed. But how much does our understanding of where foods come from and how they are produced actually matter?
Coming from a family that makes homemade Polish sausage every year, I do not like the saying that hotdogs contain “everything but the oink” because it oversimplifies sausage making. Sure, my family has followed the same sausage recipe for years without a second thought. However, I have come to understand over the course of my food science Ph.D. program that sausage making is actually a pretty technical process with some ingredients like spices and salt helping to prevent microbial growth which makes the food safer in addition to adding flavor.
While the food science side of me enjoys sharing these random tidbits of knowledge with my family, the public health side of me always questions “Does it matter what the ingredients are if you do not know where they came from?” Take for instance the Salmonella Newport outbreak this past summer which was linked to red onions (CDC 2020). The outbreak of illness was identified in early July, but it took about a month to link the illnesses to a food item and initiate recalls. This is likely due, in part, to fresh produce being difficult to track. Since fresh produce is typically shipped in bulk quantities by packinghouses combining produce from multiple farms, finding the source of a contaminated item of produce is very challenging.. Even when there is a label such as the PLU stickers attached to individual pieces of produce, the data associated with it rarely if ever includes all the facilities that handled that piece of fruit before it ended up on your table.
Efforts to address this issue are currently underway with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently announcing a proposed Traceability Rule (FDA 2020) under the Food Safety and Modernization Act; however, meat and poultry products – which are regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture – are already required to indicate the production establishment on the package. This is helpful during traceback investigations of foodborne illness, and also great for curious consumers who want to know where their food is being produced. See below for instructions on how to do that.
Next time you are at the grocery store, consider checking out how far those bacon slices or your Thanksgiving turkey traveled to get to your table – you might be surprised!
To figure out where meat you have purchased came from: 1. Confirm the product is regulated by USDA (see left photo) 2. Find establishment number which is often printed with the “Use By” date (see right photo) 3. Search for establishment within the USDA Meat and Poultry Inspection Directory
Graduate Research Associate
CFAES Department of Food Science and Technology