Frequently Asked Questions - Dried and Fermented Meat Products

The following questions and answers are provided as a plain language interpretation of the guidelines for fermented sausages and dried meats to assist staff and plant operators.

This document is subject to change and is for summary and information purposes only.

Please note that OMAF and MRA continues to work with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) on specific controls that are required to meet the desired outcome of these new guidelines in varying industry circumstances. This may involve further amendments to our position in the future to ensure we are in line with federal requirements and consistent in compliance across the province.

Frequently Asked Questions - Dried and Fermented Meat Products

Q.1 What meat products are covered by these guidelines?

A.1 The guidelines for interventions to control verotoxigenic strains of Escherichia coli, (e.g. E. coli O157:H7) and Salmonella apply to:

  • dried meat products (e.g. jerky), and
  • fermented sausages that are manufactured at a meat plant that:
    • uses beef as an ingredient in a dry or semi-dry fermented sausage,
    • stores or handles uncooked beef on site, or
    • obtains raw meat from a supplying meat plant which stores or handles uncooked beef.

Q.2 Is the operator required to verify the surface or internal temperature of the jerky?

A.2 The operator is required to verify the internal temperature of the jerky.

Taking an internal temperature is important to check if the meat is cooked throughout the whole width of the strip. The surface temperature will potentially be hotter than the core. Even if the surface of the meat reaches the required temperature, it does not mean that the core has reached that temperature.

Q.3 How can the internal temperature be taken from a piece of jerky that is 1/8 inch thick?

A.3 Measuring the internal temperature of Jerky may be challenging due to the thinness of the product. It can be done as follows:

Before starting the drying process, cut a strip of jerky thick enough so that a smokehouse probe can be placed into it. This "monitoring" piece of jerky will be much thicker than the rest of your product, but a temperature/time profile can now be obtained. The thinner jerky will heat faster than this strip, therefore when the "monitor" is ready, you will know that all the thinner pieces are ready as well. If you are making ground formed jerky, you may be able to verify the temperature by placing a probe between two jerky strips placed on top of one another.

Q.4 Will OMAF regulate a particular humidity percentage?

A.4 Relative humidity is a requirement in the U.S. However, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency(CFIA) does not currently require this from federal meat plants. As such, OMAF and MRA's Food Inspection Branch does not require compliance with specific relative humidity levels at the present time.

Note that most federally inspected meat plants export products to the U.S., which means that they have to comply with the relative humidity requirement of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Q.5 Has OMAF and MRA taken into account the fact that these interventions will affect the sector, production and variety of meat in the province?

A.5 We have heard operators' concerns about regulatory burden; that's why we provide a range of intervention options and operators can choose what works best for their situation.

OMAF and MRA has made every effort to develop a fulsome sector support strategy to assist processors in the transition to using one of the interventions. Many provincial meat plant operators have already successfully implemented these guidelines.

Q.6 Jerky is consumed widely in the U.S. and Canada. Why is it considered a risk?

A.6 These products are considered a risk because they are ready to eat (RTE). RTE products have a higher potential for causing food borne illness if processing is not done in a way that controls hazards of concern (i.e. if a kill step is not implemented at the right point). In addition, there is a need to adhere to Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs) to prevent re-contamination of the product (i.e. following the kill step) during handling, packaging, etc.

OMAF and MRA's testing over the past four years has shown that over two-thirds of our adverse results for pathogen contamination come from fermented sausage (e.g.'salami' and 'pepperoni') and dried meat products (e.g. beef jerky). Scientific literature has also demonstrated that fermented and dried meat products present a higher food safety risk and contribute to illness outbreaks.

Q.7 Do the MPGs for the control of verotoxigenic E. Coli and Salmonella in fermented and dried meat products apply to whole muscle pork products such as prosciutto?

A.7 No, the new guidelines do not apply to whole muscle pork products such as prosciutto.

Q.8 Are the temperatures specified in MPG Appendix 01 for the room or the product?

A.8 The time/temperature values in Appendix 01 of the Meat Plant Guidelines are internal product temperatures. The time/temperature values for all three tables in Appendix 01 were derived from the USDA's" Draft Compliance Guidelines for Ready-to-Eat Meat and Poultry Products" (used as the basis for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency Manual of Procedures Annex D and Appendix 01). This document stipulates "internal product temperature".

Q.9 For Intervention 1 - Include, as part of the manufacture of the sausage, a heat process which is recognized for controlling E. coli O157:H7"- can the heat treatment occur after drying?

A.9 We are currently in the process of researching this issue to obtain the necessary scientific data.

The typical procedure for fermented sausage manufacture is to ferment, heat and then dry. It is assumed that the Health Canada guidelines were validated under these conditions. Therefore, manufacturing processes outside of this order would likely have to be validated to show they control food safety hazards.

Until this research is completed and the appropriate scientific evidence is received, operators will be allowed to produce fermented sausages and apply a heat step after drying. When the program has all the required information, we will reassess this direction and communicate any changes. Operators may be required to apply a heat treatment prior to the drying step if that is what the scientific evidence justifies.

Q.10 How did Health Canada come up with their guideline for the control of verotoxinogenic Escherichia coli including E. Coli O157:H7 in ready-to-eat fermented sausages containing beef or a beef product as an ingredient? What studies or documents are they using?

A.10 Health Canada adopted the guidelines for the control of verotoxinogenic E.coli including E. Coli O157:H7 in ready-to-eat fermented sausages containing beef or a beef product as an ingredient from the USDA. These were developed as a result of a U.S. Blue Ribbon Task Force on Raw Fermented Sausage which recommended that establishments adopt one of five interventions proposed by the USDA to address the E. coli O157:H7 concern in these types of products.

The guidelines for dried meat products are being followed as per the Canadian Food Inspection Agency's Manual of Procedures.

Q.11 If I choose Intervention 5 - Use an alternative manufacturing process which is scientifically validated for controlling E. coli O157:H7 - how will it be approved?

A.11 If you choose Intervention 5 - Use an alternative manufacturing process which is scientifically validated for controlling E. coli O157:H7 -, either of the two following scenarios might be applicable:

  1. If a plant chooses to validate their own manufacturing process, they need to follow the "challenge study protocol" as outlined in intervention 5 of Health Canada's guideline which is what OMAF and MRA has adopted in Appendix 02 of the Meat Plant Guideline. Final approval of the challenge study must be obtained from Health Canada. The onus is on the operator to demonstrate that the study has been designed and carried out according to this challenge study protocol and to demonstrate with supporting data that the process meets the requirements to control Escherichia coli O157:H7 (i.e. that the process achieves a 5-log reduction). If the operator can demonstrate that these requirements are met, the ministry will consider the option of allowing the operator to use the process pending Health Canada approval.
  2. If a plant chooses to follow a manufacturing process that has been previously validated and published in peer reviewed literature, OMAF and MRA will review such proposals and make decisions accordingly on a case-by-case basis.

Q.12 My lot sizes are too small to test 30 samples of finished product from each one. Can I send in fewer samples?

A.12 For operators choosing to adopt Intervention 3, microbiological end-product testing must be done on each production lot and the lot must be held pending reception of results where the manufacturing process does not correspond to one of the processes set out under Interventions 1, 2, 4 or 5, and where small volumes of affected product(s) are processed. For these situations, OMAF and MRA has provided the option of submitting a reduced sampling plan application for assessment.

The application will be reviewed and approved based on a complete risk assessment of all the information received. The ministry's Meat Inspection Program along with the Food Safety Science Unit will assess and categorize the risk taking into consideration the risk level associated with the plant as well as the "lot" in question.

Q. 13 How can I maintain a non-beef status if I:

i) Receive spices from spice suppliers that may have natural beef casings, natural beef flavours (e.g. stock) in their facility

ii) Receive their products from a "box-in/box-out" facility which may store, bring in and/or ship boxed beef products (with no further handling or processing)

A.13 OMAF and MRA acknowledges that specific operational controls could prevent the cross-contamination potential to non-beef meat products as well as ingredients and materials stored at a facility. Adequate food safety controls such as proper good manufacturing practices and adequate separation during storage, handling and transport procedures for example, need to be demonstrated.

Therefore, for operators who choose to maintain a "non-beef" chain (i.e., produce fermented sausage using only pork and receive strictly 'non-beef' casings), assurance needs to be provided that the ingredients they are receiving from a facility were handled, stored and shipped in a way to prevent any cross-contamination potential from raw beef prior to arrival at their facility.

Q. 14 Who can I contact for additional help?

A.14 Please do not hesitate to contact Agnes Pawelek 1-519-826-4843 or 1-888-466-2372 Ext. 62372 (agnes.pawelek@ontario.ca) should you have any further questions or concerns regarding this food safety initiative.


For more information:
Toll Free: 1-877-424-1300
E-mail: ag.info.omafra@ontario.ca
Author: OMAF Staff
Creation Date: 12 December 2013
Last Reviewed: 12 December 2013