Remember trichinae? Well, consumers still do.

Production practices have changed since trichinae infection was a big pork safety concern, and prevalence rates are essentially nonexistent. But trichinae is still an issue. Here's why:

FACT: Nearly all U.S. hogs are free of the parasite Trichinella spiralis, the cause of trichinosis. However, many consumers still perceive trichinae and fresh pork as a food-safety concern.

FACT: The European Union and many other countries have laws requiring pigs to be tested for trichinae. However, the United States does not test for trichinae, leading many of its trading partners to require that U.S. pork be further processed before it can enter their countries.

Trichinae's hindrance on consumers' and trading partners' purchases of fresh pork may not be monumental, but it is a concern. So in 1994 the U.S. pork industry – producers, government and allied industry – formed the National Trichinae Research Project to respond to perceptions about trichinae. Now that group is close to implementing a national voluntary trichinae-free certification program.

The program is designed to provide a scientific and cost-effective process to certify that your hogs are trichinae free, says Dave Pyburn, National Pork Producers Council's director of veterinary services.

Here's how it's intended to work: Trained veterinarians will inform producers about "good production practices" – or GPPs – designed to prevent trichinae infection. A veterinarian will then conduct an on-farm audit to ensure that those GPP's are in place.
Your operation will have to achieve a certain score (yet to be determined) in order to receive a trichinae-free certification.

A statistical sample of certified herds will be tested at slaughter to confirm the absence of trichinae. Random spot audits will likely be required for re-certification; however, the length of time between re-certification is not yet determined.

The prospects of success with this program are encouraging, Pyburn says. More than 220,000 pigs were tested for trichinae in an Iowa pilot project in 1997 – all tested clean.

A final test of the certification process is about to begin, says Ray Gamble, research leader with USDA's Agricultural Research Service. It will test 100 to 150 hog units. If all goes well, "we should launch the nationwide voluntary certification program by the end of 2000," says Gamble.

He believes you will see the benefits of getting your herd certified. Packers are looking for programs like this that ensure and allow food-safety claims on pork. "It will be even more important as branded products come along," Gamble says. That means there could be premiums for being certified trichinae-free at first. As more of you participate, though, certification likely will be a requirement for market access.

Trichinae is just the beginning. "The industry and the government view this project as a model for future on-farm food safety initiatives," Pyburn says. He points to Toxoplasma as the most logical next target. NPPC has organized groups to work on good production practices for both Toxoplasma and Salmonella.

Don't forget the prospect of advancing pork's trading position. Other countries have seen the auditing documents and protocol outline and, Pyburn says, will accept the U.S. certified trichinae-free program once "an acceptable track record has been established." Translation: acceptable results could boost export sales.

Look for more information on the trichinae certification program once the final trials are completed – they start this month and should run through most of 2000.