Wal-Mart initiates program to enhance beef safety

by Keith Nunes
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BENTONVILLE, ARK. — Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is in the process of ensuring its suppliers implement additional beef-safety measures. The new process-control standards and goals will supplement its existing food-safety program requiring ground-beef suppliers to test for E. coli O157:H7 and achieve prevention-based certification against one of the Global Food Safety Initiative internationally recognized standards.

Under the new program, Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club beef suppliers are required to implement controls that will reduce potential contamination levels and validate that the measures implemented are effective through specialized testing. Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club officials plan to work closely with beef suppliers to implement the new standards without additional cost to customers.

Frank Yiannas, vice-president of food safety for Wal-Mart, told Food Business News that “We are not dictating the use of specific interventions or technologies. This is more of a performance standard. We do require, though, that only regulatory approved technologies be used.”

The interventions Wal-Mart will require will be in slaughter plants and beef processing plants, James Marsden, Regents Distinguished Professor of animal sciences at Kansas State University, told Food Business News.

“Specifically, Wal-Mart will require that their beef slaughter suppliers implement validated interventions that eventually result in a 5-log reduction for E. coli O157:H7 and Salmonella,” he said. “Their processing suppliers must implement interventions that result in a 2-log reduction. The special testing involves both scientific validation and in-plant validation that the interventions are effective, according to Wal-Mart.”

Suppliers must be in compliance with the new standard by June 2011, unless they are a slaughtering operation. For beef slaughterhouses, there is a two-step approach with the first step to be completed by June 2011 and the second by June 2012.

Mr. Yiannas said the two-step process slaughterhouses must address involves achieving a “3-log reduction of relevant organisms by June 2011 and an additional 2-log reduction by June 2012 for a cumulative 5-log reduction.”

Mr. Yiannas added that the development of the standards has been a work in progress that has included a variety of stakeholders, including processors, academia, suppliers, industry associations and consumer groups.

“Their objective is to reduce the likelihood that beef sold in Wal-Mart stores will be contaminated with harmful pathogens,” Mr. Marsden said. “Wal-Mart and other retailers have been involved in highly publicized beef recalls and they want to take measures to reduce their exposure and protect their customers.”

Mr. Yiannas said using the new beef safety standards as a point of differentiation in marketing efforts will not be a part of the effort.

“We can say, with confidence, that we have no intention to market against this,” he said. “That is an issue that never crossed our minds.”

When asked if Wal-Mart has plans to introduce enhanced safety to other sectors of the meat industry such as pork or chicken, Mr. Yiannas said there currently weren’t any plans, but added that he “would not rule it out.”
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