Why Farmers Need to Know How to Keep Their Sh!t Together: A Tale of Food Safety

So many of you loved our last poop post, that we decided to keep talking about it. But this time, our tale is a bit more somber.  As we discussed in the days leading up to Earth Day, there are lots of environmental benefits to grass-based, diversified livestock farms that rotationally graze their animals, and mostly it’s about their manure. But when it comes time to harvest, you don’t want that sh!t anywhere in the picture. The short of it is pretty obvious: poop is great for fields but is not fit for human consumption. Here’s a bit about the why and the how.

Animal poop is full of bacteria. Some of them are real do-gooders when it comes to soil health and fertilization, but there are a few of them that are a real downer to human digestive tract. Two in particular—campylobacter and salmonella—are particularly troublesome, as they cause fairly serious food borne illness. And another bummer, they are pretty common inhabitants of chicken poop.

The folks who butcher chickens have to take careful precautions against these two gut wrenchers. All USDA-certified poultry processors use antimicrobials to get rid of any harmful bacteria that might be present in the chicken. Many large facilities soak their meat in large vats. The problem here is two fold. One, doing this means that the meat in your package is watered down. Two, if there is any bacteria present, everything in the vat is contaminated.

What’s the sunny side to this story? At Grass Roots, we do things differently. We built our own poultry processing company—Natural State Processing—so that we could have more say in how our birds are handled. Literally. There are hands on our birds at every step of our process. We air chill our meat and use a quick antimicrobial dip so that it never takes an unsavory soak. Another important difference between our birds and the other guys’ is that—because our chickens live on pasture—they come in much, much cleaner. Bacterial contamination happens when an animal comes into contact with poop. Basically—because our birds are moved to fresh pasture every single day—they don’t sit in their own poop.

When we started our own processing facility, we learned even more about how clean our birds are, especially when compared to industry standards.  To earn USDA certification, processors have to show reductions in instances of salmonella and campylobacter to prove that their antimicrobial process works. Basically, the expectation is that chickens are going to come in covered in bacteria that’s harmful to humans.  But, in the random sampling at our processing facility, most of the Grass Roots birds tested negative for both salmonella and campylobacter.  And the traces on the birds did test positive were so small, that it took bringing in birds from another farm to meet the certification requirements.

The moral of this story sounds much the same to that of our last post. If it’s not raised on fresh grass…pass!” And also that Grass Roots farmers know how to handle their sh!t. We use animal husbandry that’s greener and offer meats that are cleaner. Thanks and no thanks to poop.