There is much talk about food safety, and quite rightly so. Especially recently, following the increasing food scandals due to different types of contamination. Industrially produced meats are subjected to strict controls, because food safety is now, more than ever, crucial.
Charcuterie products are a rather delicate class of food, which requires special production and storage environments that comply with strict standards. But what do producers actually do to ensure the quality and safety of their products?
There are many reasons for which charcuterie products may not comply with standards, owing to wrong production and storage methods, as already mentioned. In the section below, we will examine these risks, and what to do to avoid the real dangers that may threaten charcuterie products.
Meat-borne parasitic diseases include:
- Cysticercosis: an infection, which has virtually disappeared, which is inactivated by the salting or brining process and by freezing meat for at least 10 days.
- Trichinosis is a parasitic disease of the muscles. It is found mainly in wild animals and can be easily passed to humans; in animals reared with modern systems, however, this risk is absent. In any case the salting process inactivates the parasites.
- Toxoplasmosis is an infection caused by a protozoan, especially dangerous for pregnant women. It is widespread and infection may even occur through water and vegetables. Charcuterie that is cooked or cured for a long time poses no risk of this type, so the idea that cured ham can transmit toxoplasmosis is completely unfounded.
Viruses and bacteria may also cause infections:
- Salmonellosis: salmonellae are found in the digestive tract of animals, which may contaminate the meat during the slaughtering process. In humans, it causes forms of gastroenteritis and septicemia. For this reason, prevention must be implemented in the breeding or slaughtering phase. Cooking and fermentation inactivate this germ.
- Infections caused by intestinal bacteria: those caused by Escherichia coli are very common. Also in this case the salting and curing processes inactivate the bacteria.
- Listeriosis is a germ found in the soil and can contaminate barn-raised animals. It develops in preparations containing minced meat or offal. Listeria can proliferate even in the cold, in poorly regulated refrigerators, at temperatures above 4°. Cooking and curing inactivate the germ.
There are also dangerous mycotoxins:
- Botulism: is a severe infection caused by a toxin that develops in the absence of oxygen. Heat does not kill it and it is frequent in homemade preserves. At industrial level it is virtually absent. In fact, the nitrites and nitrates – used in the food industry – have a high antibotulinium effect and are therefore used in all meats at risk.
- Clostridia: are bacteria that produce gas and the formation of bubbles on the casing of charcuterie products. These phenomena occur mainly in homemade salami. Charcuterie that has this anomaly must not be eaten and must be promptly disposed of.
Finally there is a series of harmful substances, including:
- Contaminants: they are potentially toxic environmental substances such as dioxin. But checks carried out by the health authorities prevent any danger in industrial productions.
- Drugs: pesticides, veterinary drugs or antibiotics may be present in animals used for food production, but also in this case the checks carried out and advanced breeding systems eliminate any residues of such substances.
- Amines: they are molecules called biogenic amines that form during fermentation. They are also present in cheese and aged wine, and may favour the onset of allergic reactions in sensitive people.
In addition to health checks, consumers now have an additional guarantee and are safeguarded by a tracking and tracing system to check and monitor the supply chain. These tools are used to trace all the food production steps and to identify them with a code; in this way, information about the animal, slaughtering and processing is always available, making the products safer.
Traceability is marked on the label and makes it possible to identify the individual links in the production chain and all the safety and control systems implemented in each sector. In particular: livestock hygiene, HACCP, namely the supervision of the critical steps to be kept under control, and the controlled use of additives.
Most problems however are caused by incorrect storage. It is very difficult that a charcuterie product leaves the factory with a serious defect, in fact inadequate storage is more likely to favour the appearance of anomalies, which are often hazardous.