Certification Program To Give Pork a New
Image. By Judy
August 4, 2000
In a couple of years, consumers won't need to cook pork chops
and roasts to the consistency of shoe leather. Starting this summer, an
innovative program to certify pigs right on the farm as free of
trichinosis-causing worms is going through its final shakedown--a 2-year pilot
"The national certification program for trichinae-free pork is
expected to be a model for controlling other foodborne pathogens, including
some bacteria, at the source of infection," said H. Ray Gamble, a
parasitologist with the Agricultural
Research Service. ARS is the chief research agency of the
U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Gamble is collaborating on the project with the National Pork
Producers Council (NPPC), the meat packing
industry and two other USDA agencies, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection
Service (APHIS) and the Food Safety and
Inspection Service (FSIS).
"ARS scientists laid the groundwork for this program from their
knowledge of the Trichinella spiralis parasite," said ARS Administrator
Floyd Horn. "Dr. Gamble developed an ELISA test that enables veterinarians to
screen live animals for infection from a blood sample. And he involved two
companies in its development and licensing.
"Then, Gamble spearheaded a 2-year study of swine operations in
the Northeast to validate the ELISA test and identify the management factors
associated with trichinae-positive herds," Horn continued.
Now, the NPPC is encouraging pork producers to volunteer for
certification by having their operations audited by an APHIS-accredited
veterinarian. Using a standardized checklist, the veterinarians will be looking
for practices that would prevent a herd's exposure to infected rodents or
wildlife or to raw garbage. Participating packing plants will keep certified
pigs separate from non certified pigs and follow a protocol developed with
According to Gamble, who heads the ARS Parasite Biology and
Epidemiology Laboratory in Beltsville, Md., "the fear of trichinosis is a
perceived threat rather than a real one."
Thanks to changes in the way most swine producers manage their
operations, the number of pigs infected with T. spiralis has been on the
decline for decades. For example, not a single positive animal turned up out of
220,000 pigs tested during a 6-month study in 1997.
But pork still suffers from the worm's shadow, which keeps
Americans overcooking the meat and has closed several overseas markets to U.S.
pork producers. Gamble says the meat packers, who want to improve their
product's image, have been a driving force in supporting the concept of on-farm
Countries in the European Union test each pig carcass for the
presence of trichinae worms, a task that cost $576 million in 1998. But carcass
testing is too costly and cumbersome for U.S. packers, says Gamble. So the
solution has been to strictly control the preparation of processed pork
products, such as sausage and ham, and to educate the public to cook fresh pork
"The on-farm audit is an approach to food safety that holds the
promise of being superior to the individual testing of pigs at slaughter," says
Dave Pyburn, director of veterinary science at NPPC.
Read more about the program online in the August issue of Agricultural Research magazine.
Scientific contact: H. Ray Gamble,
Parasite Biology and
Epidemiology Laboratory, Beltsville, Md., phone (301) 504-8300, fax (301)