At CattleCon in Orlando earlier this year, the six beef checkoff committees – Consumer Trust, Domestic Marketing, International Marketing, Nutrition & Health, Safety & Product Innovation and Stakeholder Engagement – hosted meetings to provide a platform for producers to actively participate in setting priorities for the upcoming fiscal year.

The Safety & Product Innovation Committee (S&PIC) kicked off their meeting by noting they are guided by the Beef Industry Long Range Plan. Initiatives of the plan include developing a direct-to-consumer beef safety campaign; using innovative methods and technologies to value carcasses based on eating satisfaction and red meat yield; promoting innovative online marketing, packaging and shipping solutions to enable the direct marketing of beef; promoting underutilized beef cuts and a new variety of meat products; and driving continuous improvement in food safety.

The Long Range Plan, adopted in 2020, serves as a guide post for the beef checkoff, individual farmers, industry organizations and affiliated businesses.

The S&PIC meeting was concerned with every stage of safety in the beef timeframe, from pre-harvest to post-harvest. But considering they are focused on product innovation – the last step – why do pre-harvest safety research?

According to the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, it’s the only research program “focused solely on improvements to safety in the production stages that have human health impacts.” This checkoff-funded research drives industry implementation through outreach efforts and builds consumer and stakeholder confidence in the industry’s dedication to safety.

The NCBA representative on the committee said, “We want to look at the live animal – and figure out what questions need to be addressed.” They are specifically looking at balancing live animal/environment/pathogen interactions.

With checkoff funding, the S&PIC is conducting three original pre-harvest research projects addressing four questions:

• Investigate harbors of pathogens of public health interest in cattle beyond the lymph nodes and gastrointestinal tract that may impact final product safety

• Investigate the microbiome of beef lymph nodes and key association to pathogens of public health interest

• Investigate the association between Salmonella carriage in lymph nodes and other locations within the beef animal that may impact carcass, primal/subprimal or trim contamination

• Assess the impact of environment- or feed ingredient-level contamination on the detection of pathogens of public health interest within the beef animal, carcass, primal/subprimal or trim

(Lymph nodes are found throughout a cow’s body. They act as filters for foreign materials which enter the lymph and provide a favorable environment for the interaction of different cell types in the generation of immune responses to lymph-borne antigens.)

There is also a focus on getting this information out into the scientific community and on collaborating with other livestock researchers (poultry and pork especially).

Where your beef checkoff funding goes: Safety & Product Innovation Committee

Once an animal is harvested, why do product quality research? The answers: To fill an essential need for product quality information available to the entire industry; to ensure product consistency and eating experience as production practices and management decisions evolve; and it is the only research program focused solely on improving the product itself.

It is imperative for driving progress around the eating experience – what consumers think about the most. But that end goal means producers need to look at pre-harvest influences, product management and end user conditions, which are mostly closely tied to good taste experiences.

Checkoff-funded research projects in this arena are addressing four questions:

• Investigate opportunities to extend beef shelf-life and reduce discoloration and product loss for improved beef sustainability

• Explore avenues to increase accuracy and relevancy of red meat yield evaluation to better align with industry needs

• Assess the variation of marbling deposition both with an individual muscle and within a carcass and understand the physiological disparity

• Understand the changes and drivers of consistency in pre-harvest beef management and subsequent impacts on product quality

Product quality is critical, as it requires a serious time investment. Most new products go through a year to 18 months of research, then 18 to 24 months of product safety testing, then a detailing of results before consumers ever purchase anything.

At the end, of course, is post-harvest beef safety research. A current research project underway is “Developing a Quantitative Salmonella Baseline from Ground Beef in the United States” (led by Texas Tech, Kansas State, University of Georgia, USDA-ARS, the Meat Animal Research Center (MARC) and Food Safety Net Services), with the goal of conducting a representative Salmonella baseline and developing a blinded quantitative Salmonella baseline for the U.S. beef industry representing season and geographical waves.

“We really need to get a better handle on Salmonella issues,” noted presenter Susan Backus of the North American Meat Institute. “This could have huge implications for future research.”

The study is taking 13,000 beef samples and looking at their sources and the prevalence and levels of Salmonella. Backus noted some findings from this project will be released at the end of this fiscal year.

Other current research projects include:

• “Creating Alternative Support for Lethality and Stabilization for Heat Treated and Fully Cooked Meat and Poultry Products” (led by the University of Wisconsin and Harrison Tech), which is looking specifically at dry fermented sausage guidance and issues with charcuterie products

• “Enhanced Characterization of Sequence Differences Among Salmonella Isolates Within SNP Clusters Identified by the NCBI Pathogen Detection System” (led by USDA-ARS and MARC)

• “Novel TaqMan Assays for the Specific Detection and Simultaneous Differentiation of Virulent and Avirulent Non-O157 Shiga Toxin-Producing E. coli Strains” (led by Florida State, USDA-ARS and MARC)

The next S&PIC meeting is scheduled for July 10 in San Diego, CA. For more information, visit

by Courtney Llewellyn