Food Safety and Hygiene in Unorganized Meat Sector
Meat is the most valuable livestock product and a very important food category which requires proper attention in relation to its hygiene parameters right from animal slaughtering to its human consumption including its storage, transportation, sale etc. Because of being nutritionally rich and highly perishable in nature, meat and its products are at high risk having major food safety and hygiene concerns.
Meat safety is a complex issue. There are many hazards and challenges associated with it. Hazards mainly include microbial pathogens, various chemical and physical contaminants, cross-contamination, improper transport and storage conditions, food additives, chemical and antibiotic residues, resistance to antibacterials and several others. Meat safety challenges involve traceability issues, pathogen and chemical residue detection problems, regulatory issues, addressing consumer concerns, etc.
According to National Sample Survey Office (NSSO), there is clear trend towards non-vegetarianism in India. Henceforth, there exists a big challenge for ensuring safe and hygienic food for human consumption, as a major portion of our country consumes non-vegetarian food.
India is the eight largest producer of meat in the world contributing 2.0 % of the total world meat production. In-spite of big potential, the Indian meat industry has not taken its due share. In India, meat is commonly sold in open premises leading to contamination from dirt, dust, flies and other pollutants. The traditional production systems and the unhygienic practices have affected the image of the Indian meat industry.
Unorganized meat sector basically includes unregistered slaughtering units and butcher shops. Most of slaughter houses are very old and have out-lived their utility. The existing conditions in these slaughter-houses are far from satisfactory. These are lacking in basic facilities like water, electricity, ventilation, drainage, ceramic flooring, lairage, holding pens, overhead rails and waste disposal which are essential for the production of wholesome and safe meat for domestic consumers.
Animals are slaughtered in traditional ways on the open ground with/without further processing or dressing on the floor/rails. Carcasses are exposed to heavy contamination from dung and soil. Situation is further aggravated by inadequate ante-and post-mortem inspection practices. The quality of meat produced in these existing slaughterhouses is unhygienic and carries high levels of microbial contamination. Though cooking may kill many of the microorganisms in meat, cross-contamination of the products eventually occurs under the prevailing conditions of meat-handling. Enormous quantities of by-products are not utilised efficiently and economically. Further, most of the meat for domestic consumption comes from poultry, sheep and goat that are slaughtered in unorganised/unregistered premises/meat shops.
The fresh meat industry is highly fragmented, with the current size in India being around Rs 1,80,000 crore, and the unorganised market (butcher shops) comprising 90 per cent. Slaughter is also performed backyard near butcher shops or in residential areas. Such unauthorized slaughter by meat traders and retail meat stall owners is performed at irregular hours and meat is not inspected. Under such conditions the meat produced is not safe for consumption.
There is a lack of criteria in governing the management of slaughter houses, lack of trained personnel maintaining slaughter houses, lack of food safety specialist monitoring contamination and containment. Furthermore, there is lack of qualified Veterinarians, training to the butchers and Registration mechanism for the butchers.
Food Safety and Standards (Licensing and Registration of Food Businesses) Regulations 2011, in Part IV of Schedule 4 outlines specific Hygienic and Sanitary Practices to be followed by Food Business Operators engaged in manufacture, processing, storing and selling of Meat and Meat Products. This covers requirements to be followed by Slaughter houses, meat processing units and retail meat shops which include location, equipment and machinery, sanitary facilities, ante-mortem and post-mortem inspection, animal welfare, personal hygiene and health requirements and others. All the FBO’s engaged in meat business are required to strictly follow these guidelines in order to register and obtain licence for their units.
As per available information, In India, there are:
- • About 4,000 registered slaughter houses with the local bodies and more than 25,000 unregistered premises. However, among these only 120 slaughter houses are Central Licensed, 389 slaughter houses are State licensed and 2409 slaughter houses are registered under FSSAI.
- • 225 meat processing units (active) which have central license and 181 units with State license
- • 67 abattoirs cum meat processing units and 31 Meat processing units approved by APEDA.
Issues to be addressed: There is an urgent need to upgrade these small slaughter-houses with minimum basic facilities. There is a need for minimum facilities that are essential to install and operate essential food safety management in small slaughter houses catering to about 20-50 large animals and 100-150 small animals slaughter per day. These requirements need to be attended while constructing new slaughter houses or upgrading the existing ones on priority so as to comply with safety standards prescribed for inspection by FSSAI.
Consumers should always follow basic safe food handling rules to protect themselves and ensure that the foods they eat are safe. In this context, consumer awareness is needed to be created. They should know about:
- ▶ Handling food safely
- ▶ Food borne illness
- ▶ Product recalls
- ▶ Keeping food safe during emergencies
- ▶ Keeping the food supply secure
- ▶ Risk of intentional contamination
- ▶ Reporting possible food tampering
Furthermore, consumers should realize their responsibility in contributing towards safety and hygiene of the meat they consume. They should start questioning the meat FBO’s about the registration and license status of their units as well the basic safety practices they follow. Consumers must also report to the concerned authority about the issues they have come across.