By Vic Sevilla
ON her shopping day, a busy working mom normally heads to the meat section first to get her hands on the choicest cuts. At home, most of us mindlessly take frozen meat from the freezer, put it in the sink, and turn the faucet on for faster thawing.
Most of us are guilty of these seemingly innocuous acts that we consider helpful time-savers. But we may ultimately pay a high price for our haste and lack of care. So what’s the worst thing that can happen for shopping and preparing food hurriedly? A bum stomach, if one is lucky. Or, for the unfortunate, even death.
The fact is, food safety cannot be overemphasized. In recent months, a succession of food poisoning incidents have seen schoolchildren falling terribly ill, and, worse, dying within hours of ingesting suspected contaminated foods. Not surprisingly, a growing number of consumer groups and individuals have raised concerns about the safety of the edible products that are made available to the public. In this light, the key role that members of the meat industry play in ensuring the safety and quality of meat ingredients from farm to table cannot be undervalued.
‘MEATING UP’ WITH THE PUBLIC
KNOWING the importance of public awareness and education regarding meat safety, Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA), a not-for-profit organization that delivers research, development and marketing services to Australia’s red meat industry, recently launched “Let’s Meat Up.” It’s an advocacy program that aims to broaden public awareness in the Philippines about the importance of meat safety.
“We’ve actually been doing ‘Let’s Meat Up’ a number of years already, where we share recipes and cooking tips using meat from Australia. This year, however, we have included safety measures on shopping, handling, preparing and cooking meat to ensure the cleanliness and integrity of meat and livestock products from Australia,” says Andrew Simpson, MLA international business manager for Southern Asia.
Meat and livestock products account for a big chunk of Australia’s exports, so its meat production industry has developed and adopted one of the world’s most stringent meat safety and traceability standards. Simpson says that Australia’s enviable reputation in producing some of the highest quality red meat is due to the combined integrity of its cattle growers and the unique Australian environment.
“Australia is recognized as being free of all major epidemic diseases of cattle, including foot-and-mouth disease. We have also taken a global leadership role by enacting legislation to prevent the feeding of meat and bone meal to ruminants, and have also implemented disease surveillance programs in line with international standards to verify this ban,” he adds.
But quality assurance doesn’t stop there. The MLA has also committed to lending its expertise in meat safety to the countries that buy its meat products, the Philippines among them. According to Paul Perez, MLA country manager for the Philippines, Australia’s meat safety systems are present at every stage—on the farm, in the feed lot, at the sale yards and during transportation. The same stringent measures are utilized in handling the products on their way to the different importing countries.
He explains, “MLA is working with the National Meat and Inspection Service to share knowledge and expertise in various areas, especially on cold chain management, which is critical to the safety of meats that are being transported from overseas. As a complement to these efforts, we believe it is important to engage in a public advocacy campaign to improve awareness on meat safety, so we decided to focus our Let’s Meat Up program to make the information more accessible to Filipino consumers.”
Designed as a comprehensive information dissemination and education program, Let’s Meat Up comprises of a series of workshops and learning sessions targeted to various food service professionals (such as supermarket retailers, chefs, butchers, restaurant owners and caterers), homemakers and culinary students. At each workshop, experts from MLA educate participants on meat selection, handling, preparation and storage, with information tailor-fit to each audience group.
Starting this September and every month thereafter, there will be Let’s Meat Up sessions to be held in various culinary schools in Metro Manila. Homemakers, household cooks and helpers can also participate when Let’s Meat Up visits subdivisions and villages. Registration will be coursed through the barangay or homeowner’s association. All sessions are free of charge. Information about the Let’s Meat Up activities is available at facebook.com/letsmeatup, the Facebook community page of MLA Philippines.
FOOD SAFETY AT HOME
Below are important shopping and methods from MLA to keep meat fresh and safe. Moms, homemakers, and just about everybody can practice these at home to reduce the risk of food-borne illnesses:
• At the supermarket, purchase your meat last when doing your shopping. Keep it cold and place in your refrigerator as quickly as possible when you get home.
• Choose suitable cuts for different cooking methods.
• If possible, add ice to the meat when taking it home after shopping.
• Avoid putting weight over fresh meat.
• Meat that you do not plan to cook and consume three days after shopping should be kept properly frozen in the freezer.
• This is how to thaw frozen meat safely: Frozen meat should be thawed slowly in the chiller over time (note: chiller temperature should be below 4°C). This may sound like a long process, but it retains the weight of the product, the nutrients and the flavor of the meat.
• Work with small amounts of meat at a time.
• Replace the meat in the fridge as quickly as possible.