How the Healthy Pig Gets to the Market

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I recently had the opportunity to attend the World Pork Expo (WPX) in Des Moines, Iowa. This annual meeting showcased strategies farmers and pork industry professionals use to take care of pigs that will enter the food supply. The meeting also gave me the chance to sample lots of pork treats, including chocolate ice cream with bacon inside. (Yum!)

While walking away blissfully satisfied by many pork delights and enlightened about pig farming, I began to think this experience has given me the opportunity to talk more about pig health, pork production, and food safety.

Safety from Pig to Pork

Pork is among many commodity groups monitored each year by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for links to foodborne illness. In 2015, the CDC found that only 6 percent of illnesses are linked to pork consumption. This is less than seeded vegetables, such as cucumbers and tomatoes.

When it comes to food safety, “it takes a village” to keep food from causing illness.  It’s not only the responsibility of the meat processors, but also those involved in shipping, storing, purchasing, preparing and reheating. 

Pig farmers and pork producers abide by the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) regulations put in place to ensure the safety of our meat, dairy and egg supply. As stated on the USDA website, “FSIS enforces the Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA), the Poultry Products Inspection Act (PPIA), and the Egg Products Inspection Act. These laws require Federal inspection and regulation of meat, poultry, and processed egg products prepared for distribution in commerce for use as human food. It also verifies compliance with the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act for livestock. This statute is enforced through the FMIA.”

To uphold food safety at home, taking simple measures like washing your hands, storing meat below 40⁰F and using a meat thermometer to make sure meat gets cooked to the proper internal temperature (145⁰F for whole cuts and 160⁰F for ground pork) can help prevent foodborne illness.

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More than 65,000 pig farms in the United States help produce more than 20 billion pounds of pork each year. To responsibly care for all those pigs at every stage of their lives and to meet the demands of our food supply, farmers use modern techniques based on scientific advances and agricultural resources. Farmers establish animal care practices in barns including sow (female pig) gestation methods, and they track the impact the animals have on the environment.

Like people, pigs can get sick from time to time and may need medicine. Yes, we are talking antibiotics. In past posts, we’ve addressed the issue of antibiotics in livestock potentially contributing to antibiotic resistance. To help combat this issue, in early 2017 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) began requiring all drug manufacturers to remove growth enhancement from the uses of antibiotics approved for use in livestock for human consumption. Farmers, veterinarians and the FDA are all working to minimize adverse impacts of animal antibiotics on animal and human health.

Pass the Pork Protein Please

Protein is unmatched when it comes to building muscles and has been shown to be an effective tool in achieving satiety and weight management. And wouldn’t you know it, pork is a great source of protein!

When choosing pork or any red meat, it’s important to look for lean cuts.  Lean pork (including pork loin, leg or shoulder) has less than 2 grams of saturated fat per 100-gram serving, 100 grams of bacon gives you almost 8 grams of saturated fat.

Our Perfect Pork

Next time you have bacon for breakfast or a bratwurst on the grill, share with your friends how much you know about the food safety regulations put in place to guide the pork industry. You’ll be the life of the party! Well, maybe not. But you will help your friends understand how farmers work hard to put safe and delicious bacon on the table. 

Christina LiPuma, dietetic intern at Brigham & Women’s Hospital, contributed to this piece.