By law, all food processors are required to produce foods that are safe and wholesome. Quality sells, but safety is the law.

Meat processors, especially those operations manufacturing ready-to-eat (RTE) foods, are under great pressure to assure the safety of their products. Almost all RTE products, including sausages and luncheon meats, are thermally processed to destroy pathogenic organisms, so they are safe immediately after the process. Unfortunately, should these products be mishandled after processing, or packaged in a less than sanitary environment, they could become contaminated with pathogenic organisms such as Listeria monocytogenes. Contamination with this pathogen has resulted in a number of product recalls, and caused numerous outbreaks with many illnesses and, sadly enough, several deaths.

To help assure the safety of RTE meats, the United States Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service has enacted legislature aimed at minimizing the potential for foodborne illness from these products. The agency encourages meat processors to upgrade sanitation, utilize post-packaging processes and antimicrobial agents as part of this program. In fact, the greater the commitment that companies make to safety, the less chance the agency will pull samples for testing.

The incorporation of antimicrobial agents into products or as part of a post-process treatment helps create an environment that discourages the growth of L. monocytogenes and other pathogens like E. coli 0157:H7. Purac America (Lincolnshire, Ill.) has developed a number of antimicrobial compounds that create hurdles to discourage both the growth and colonization of these organisms.

One of these compounds is called PURASAL Opti.Form, a blend of sodium or potassium lactate and sodium diacetate. The potassium lactate is the potassium salt of lactic acid and is produced by fermentation of sugar.

Research by Oscar Mayer's (Kraft Foods, Glenview, Ill.) R&D department has shown the use of Opti.Form technology in RTE meat products helps to suppress the growth of L. monocytogenes over the entire shelflife of the product. It may be used as an ingredient in product formulations, directly added to the product or brine.

Opti.Form also inhibits other organisms, especially those known to spoil meats and meat products, so the user's products not only will be safer but may also have a longer shelflife. And, according to the manufacturer, the product also will not affect the flavor or texture of products—if it is used according to the manufacturer's recommendations. It does one no good to build a safer product that consumers will not accept.

For more information:

Purac America, Hayley Walls, 847-634-6330,