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Food safety program for sheep outlined

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By 2011, all Alberta sheep farmers will have to follow a mandatory provincial program to comply with food safety regulations. The proposed procedure was outlined during an on farm food safety course held at the second annual sheep seminar in Stettler Oct. 24. The seminar by the Battle River research group from Camrose was attended by about 90 producers from east and central Alberta.

Lorraine Hall of the Canadian Sheep Federation, the national coordinator of the on-farm food safety course, gave an overview of the program, which is a management tool developed by the sheep industry.

“It helps you address food safety problems or potential food safety programs on your farm” Hall said. “Consumers are becoming more aware of food safety. They’re also becoming more aware of the long-term effects of food safety failure,” referring to last summer’s listeria outbreak.

“Testing advances have allowed the source of pathogens to be traced back with more accuracy. They can trace them back to the individual animal, sometimes. So that has raised concerns about potential liability in some people’s minds,” said Hall.

She said food safety failure can also change consumer trust in a product and result in a loss of business, noting the recent deaths from listeria in luncheon meat.

“The aim of food safety programs is to control food safety hazards by eliminating the hazard through proper handling, preventing the hazard from entering the chain and reducing potential hazards to an acceptable level,” she said.

A food safety hazard can be physical, chemical or biological and has the potential to cause harm. Biological hazards would include bacteria, moulds, viruses or parasites, or any human pathogens.

“A classic example of a physical hazard would be the metal from injection needles,” said Hall. “They can cause serious damage if swallowed. These (physical) hazards result in the most consumer complaints because they are visible to the consumer.”

ANALYZING HAZARDS

On-farm food safety programs are created using the principles of HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point), an international scientifically based program designed by NASA. The program looks at the different steps in a process and identifies what could go wrong at each step. The examination is called the hazard analysis, and the steps where the problem could be controlled are known as critical control points. HAACP-based programs work on farms and use principles that can be applied by producers, said Hall.

Participants in the food safety workshop were given a binder divided into sections. Potential hazards and good production standards for various areas were outlined in different sections of the binder. Some procedures are recognized as mandatory, while others are simply recommended. Good practices on the farm, record-keeping forms, and on-farm assessment are all included in the program.

The program also takes into account animal health practices, training workers, shipping animals, and general farm management. Everyone who works on the farm must be trained in some aspects of the program for program compliance. Forms to record vaccines and antibiotic use and withdrawal times are all included in the program.

“For any animal health products, it’s a good idea to keep a copy of the veterinary prescription and to write down on the record which animals were treated and the dates and dosage,” Hall said. “Many products approved in Canada for cattle are not labelled for sheep, so using those products would be considered extra-label,” she said. “To comply with the program requirements, you need to have a veterinary prescription to use drugs extra-label.”

Over-the-counter products used in a way that is not specified on the label are also considered extra-label and a veterinary prescription is needed for that as well, Hall said.

Producers were also advised about needle safety and potential contamination of products used around livestock.

The Canadian Sheep Federation will be working with a provincial safety coordinator, who has yet to be appointed, to help producers implement the food safety program on their farms. The program is still in development.

About the author

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Alexis Kienlen

Alexis Kienlen lives in Edmonton and has been writing for Alberta Farmer since 2008. Originally from Saskatoon, Alexis is also the author of two collections of poetry, a biography, and a novel called "Mad Cow."

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