Government researchers are helping to reduce Salmonella on pork operations, part of a bid by USDA to prevent the pathogen from showing up at processing plants.

The strategy seems to be working, according to the USDA. In 1998, only 65 percent of samples of pork intended for processing plants met USDA's minimum standards for Salmonella contamination. Since then, work by a number of USDA agencies has helped to push the pass rate beyond 90 per cent in 2005.

IowaStateUniversity veterinarians Annette O'Connor and James McKean devised a multi-year USDA-funded research project to identify a potential for links between on-farm Salmonella presence in swine and pork carcass contamination from these sources. The project will involve 60 selected Iowa pork producers selling to a cooperating Iowa packing plant.

The protocol starts with on-farm sampling of pigs and environment for Salmonella presence immediately prior to marketing from four finishing pig groups per producer. Researchers will track these groups of hogs to harvest and sampled in the lairage pens and at various locations within the packing plant. Researchers will compare Salmonella isolated from each stage as to their type and genetic profiles in an attempt to identify genetic matches to salmonellas isolated on carcasses.

The goal is to establish contributions from each stage (on-farm, lairage and processing) to carcass Salmonella contamination found in the cooler. If a connection between on-farm and on-carcass presence can be established, it will provide a tool to evaluate success of on-farm interventions. If no connections can be made between on-farm and carcass contamination, it will bolster the argument that on-farm Salmonella programs do not significantly reduce the levels of Salmonella contamination on pork products, and that other preventative measures must be identified after the farm gate. Either finding provides positive information for improving pork quality and safety.

Source: IowaPork Producers Association