Your Partner in Food Safety

At Birko, we take food safety seriously. Nothing is more important to us than making sure that the food chain is secure, safe and pathogen free. That’s why we’re committed to providing environmentally safe chemical formulations backed by scientific innovation and technology.

An Integrated Solution

Food safety is our highest priority in meeting the needs of our customers, whether their food safety challenges are in protein, poultry, produce or brewery. We offer an integrated solution of industrial strength chemical formulations for cleaning, sanitation and interventions, combined with customized, blend-on-site chemical dispensing and controls. Birko specializes in food grade, green, sustainable and environmentally responsible products. For more efficient, economical and safer food plant operation, Birko provides a full line of state-of-the-art equipment. Birko’s commitment to food safety also includes our proprietary online chemical and service tracking system, BirkoStats™.

Birko is a member of the Beef Industry Food Safety Council. BIFSCo emphasizes food safety in the beef industry and is building a connection between all aspects of the food supply chain, including farmers, processors and distributors, as well as grocers and restaurants. BIFSCo has compiled best practices in the beef industry for combating complex food safety issues and pathogens such as E. coli, Salmonella and Listeria. In March 2011, BIFSCo released new guidelines to be used for sampling, lotting and testing beef products.

Because foodborne illness can affect everyone who eats, Birko has put together this information on food safety.

What Everyone Should Know About Food Safety

E. coli is once again in the news with the identification of a rarely seen strain in Europe sickening thousands, some very seriously, and killing well over 50 people. Although this highly toxic strain is not currently seen in the United States, it has sparked great public concern over the safety of the food chain.

How do things like E. coli and Salmonella get started? What’s the role of the food processing industry in keeping the food chain safe? And since we all eat, what can we do to protect ourselves from foodborne illnesses?

What is E. coli?

Like death and taxes, bacteria, viruses and microbes are constantly with us. We simply do not live in a sterile environment. Most of these organisms are beneficial and essential for our wellbeing. However, there are some bad actors in the crowd, pathogens, that can cause illness and sometimes even death.

Our bodies have developed immune systems to combat these pathogens. Healthy adults are best able to combat them while the young, elderly or cancer patients or those who are ill may not be able to fight them off. Fortunately, for most people one foodborne pathogen organism is not enough to cause illness, even in people with compromised immune systems. Generally, there have to be a number of pathogenic organisms present to cause illness.

The deadliest known pathogen—Bacillus anthracis—causes anthrax. This one is a zero order organism, which means that one organism is sufficient to cause disease.

Salmonella and E. coli O157:H7 are third-order organisms, which means that a minimum of 1,000 are necessary to cause illness. Most other known foodborne pathogens are fifth-order organisms, which means that a minimum of 100,000 are needed to cause illness. Bacterial control is a numbers game with the objective to keep the foodborne pathogen population below that necessary to cause disease.

E. coli O157:H7 is the most commonly-seen strain. The German outbreak appears to be caused by a new, especially virulent strain of E. coli, O104. E. coli of all types can be found in warm-blooded animals, as well as people.

Salmonella is the most frequently reported cause of foodborne illness. It appears in two main variations, or serotypes, and can sometimes cause symptoms in both people and animals.

The Best Defense

There are a number of strategies that can help control foodborne pathogens. No known foodborne pathogen survives above 180°F so heating foods to this temperature is an excellent means of control. Exposure to elevated temperatures for set periods of time is also an effective means of controlling pathogens. Pasteurization can be accomplished by exposing food at 160°F for 15 minutes or 140°F for 30 minutes. Milk, which was a primary carrier of anthrax, is pasteurized routinely to eradicate this pathogen.

Other strategies to control pathogens involve cleanliness and temperature control. Bacteria need a food source, moisture, warm temperatures and subdued lighting to thrive and multiply. While most bacteria can survive refrigeration, most do not multiply. Thus storing food below 40°F is a means of inhibiting bacterial growth. Listeria is the outstanding exception among foodborne pathogens.

You can do a lot at home to control bacteria and keep it from growing: washing dishes, cookware, and food preparation surfaces removes potential food sources for bacteria, while drying dishes and cookware removes the moist environment required for them to thrive. Allowing dishcloths, towels, sponges and scouring pads to dry between uses further inhibits bacteria growth. Washing raw fruits and vegetables with clean water before use reduces bacteria numbers on these food items. Non-moist food items should be stored in a dry location. You should always wash your hands before preparing food, and prepare food on clean surfaces utilizing clean utensils. Serve food on clean dishes and eat it with clean utensils. It’s also important to avoid cross contamination. For example, do not use the same utensils and surfaces to cut up fresh meat and salad ingredients without washing them first.

These steps do not guarantee that you will never become ill from the food you eat. However, taking precautions when handling food will reduce the chances of acquiring a foodborne illness.

Keeping the Food Chain Safe

While there are a number of aggressive, effective methods to keep food safe, the reality is that no single method can completely eliminate E. coli and other pathogenic bacteria, either at home or in meat processing facilities.

In processing facilities, it’s often necessary to use a multiple-hurdle approach. Each step in the dressing and processing of beef provides an opportunity to control bacteria, prevent cross-contamination and prevent the spread of bacterial contamination to downstream processes.

To help protein processors keep the food chain as safe as possible, Birko has a complete family of specialty processing, cleaning and sanitation chemicals, in addition to harvesting and processing equipment and chemical product delivery equipment.

Read more about Birko’s approach to food safety in these blogs:

Controlling E. coli – A Multiple-Hurdle Approach

E. coli outbreaks continue to hurt the food processing industry in unexpected ways, as seen in the early summer 2011 contamination in Europe. The USDA FSIS issued 2009 guidelines for its control but as the current problem shows, new strains of E. coli make it imperative to be vigilant in attacking this enemy.

The European Outbreak of E. coli, Traceable to Produce

The European outbreak of E. coli, traceable to produce such as tomatoes, lettuce and cucumbers, has understandably sparked great public concern. For produce we recommend a multi-prong attack to fight E. coli, including washing raw fruits and vegetables with clean water before use. This reduces bacteria numbers on produce.

HB2 Bromine Precursor—A New Antimicrobial Intervention

With the ongoing quest for effective antimicrobial interventions, processors would do well to consider hypobromous acid and its precursor, Enviro Tech’s liquid HB2. Lab tests have shown hypobromous acid (generated from the HB2 precursor) is effective in reducing E. coli O157:H7, helping processors comply with their E. coli intervention requirement under FSIS Notice 05-09. Specifically, controlled tests have shown hypobromous acid reduces E. coli O157:H7 and other problem pathogens by as much as 99.959% in a one-minute period and up to 99.999% over five minutes. This compares favorably with other popular antimicrobial interventions in current use.


Biofilms may be more common than we think. They are a leading source of bacteria in the food plant environment because of the presence of moisture. When bacteria are free to move around they are said to be planktonic. They will also attach themselves to surfaces in a moist, temperature-permissive environment and begin forming colonies. As these colonies grow they produce a protective, adhering matrix called biofilm.