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Needle In The Meat Stack

Needle In The Meat Stack
This article is written by a food safety officer at Vmanifest Private Limited


Working in the food industry, I often come across sensitive and convoluted cases. One such incident probes a finger into the imported frozen meat products sector.

The Incident

This happened at a company I worked in a few years before. A very enjoyable and lavish lunch service was held at our canteen for both employees and customers. All our customers were delighted with the buffet menu, the service, and the arrangements made.  People were excitedly savouring meat specialties along with other delicacies on the menu.

The celebrations were going well; all of a sudden, a call from the canteen twisted the gayety of the service team into deep anxiety. “Something has pierced the gum of a customer and he is bleeding profusely”. The customer was rushed to a nearby clinic for medical treatment. The doctor removed a piece of sharp metal and confirmed it was indeed a broken surgical needle.

The entire service team was shocked to hear this. Was there really a broken surgical needle in the food?? The answer was “Yes”.

The poor victim was provided with best possible treatments and supported with a huge compensation.

The Investigation

Back in the facility, the sample was preserved for further investigation. An investigation team was immediately formed, involving both the lower level staff to the top-level management.  Starting from the bottom line of operations, we scrutinized each and every possibility for the reason a surgical needle would contaminate the food. All employees were questioned separately to extract and sketch the root level of processes concerned with that lunch.

After much scrutiny, the result was surprising – broken surgical needle was from a beef preparation. The next question was, how?

Considering the nature of the incident, communications were made with the supplier and manufacturer was contacted. The manufacturer accepted the possibility of contamination with surgical needle in meat. An investigative report of the manufacturer detailed the vaccination practice for livestock. Though the chances of needle breakage is negligible while vaccinating, if overlooked by the practitioner it can lead to much harm. What if the customer had swallowed the needle? The negligence could have cost him his life!

This imbibed more confidence in me, as a food safety trainer, that proper investigation can bring out the root causes of incidents occurring in food processing, thus minimizing the occurrences and severity of such cases. The training provided prior to the incident contributed much in empowering the team to be more vigilant during each step of operation. The process control forms were up-to-date and captured all the critical points, which helped to gather the right information while conducting the investigation

The Conclusion

Though the incidents of finding needles in food are few, the risk to the consumer could be fatal. Food safety involves everybody in the food chain. The food industry has a moral responsibility to ensure that the food supplied to their consumers is free from any contaminants. This can be ensured by having risk assessment audits, following HACCP guidelines, and in the words of Bill Marler, “ Each and every member of the food industry, from farm to fork, must create a culture where food safety and nutrition is paramount”.

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