Understanding Ecoli and the Food Industry

The recent XL Foods recall has a lot of people worried. We have received several calls and emails from consumers wanting to know if the meat from TK Ranch is safe to eat. Understanding how e-coli gets into the food chain is the best place to start.

Cattle that are fed grain often develop unhealthy bacteria in their system because they are not designed to digest high carbohydrate diets — ruminant animals should be fed grass and forages to keep them healthy.

There are three large processing facilities in Alberta — the Cargill plant in High River processes 4,500 head per day, the Lakeside Packers (XL Foods) plant in Brooks that processes 4,500 head per day, and the XL Meats plant in Calgary that processes 1,000 head per day. When a plant processes high volumes of grain fed cattle every day, and they use high pressure hot water to clean the carcasses and the surrounding areas, small particles of potentially e-coli infected manure can be suspended in steam in the air. When this happens, carcasses can potentially be infected leading to recalls and consumer uncertainty.

For many years, we at TK Ranch have understood the inherent risks associated with factory produced food. As such we have created our own gate-to-plate value chain that ensures our TK Ranch products are produced in a low risk processing environment that meets our stringent program protocols. Instead of using large processing, plants we use small family owned provincially inspected abattoirs that can control all aspects of the processing chain better. We use Alberta Prairie Meats in Duchess, Alberta to process all of our beef, lamb and pork — they only process a total of 40 head of beef and 50 lambs every week (and only process pigs for us on an occasional basis). We have been working with Alberta Prairie Meats since 1998 and they are very progressive — they work closely with us to ensure they meet all of our animal welfare and quality protocols: They allow us to handle all of our animals right to the point of process to decrease stress; they dry age our beef for 21 days; they use our recipes to make our gluten, MSG, dairy and nitrite free processed meats, and; they are fastidiously clean! Small plants are at low risk for e-coli because they do things slowly and methodically — they do not have to meet a daily quota like the larger factory plants that need to process an animal every 20 seconds.

In addition to all of this TK Ranch beef is GRASS FINISHED — this means that there is very little risk of e-coli contamination because our cattle are not being fed grain. So rest assured, we have taken every step possible to decrease the risks associated with e-coli and our TK Ranch products.

12 Comments for "Understanding Ecoli and the Food Industry"

  1. Robin Stoddard says

    I am very pleased that we have "found" TK Ranch, as your "gate-to-plate" method is as how it should be.

    Growing up in Prince George, BC; my parents sourced all of their beef from a farm that managed their cattle in the same manner that you do. I grew up knowing that our meats were sourced from either traditional hunting or from a farm with the same ethics as yours.

    In Calgary with my family, we have for so many years bought our beef from Costco not knowing where and how the animal was treated, which has always made me feel uncomfortable and until recently very concerned.

    All it takes is a small amount of research and reading to find out the real story behind how factory farming is destroying the ideals of a traditional farming and how we as consumers are being mislead into believing we have a safe food supply.

    So I just wanted to say thank you to TK Ranch for sticking with your ideals and staying true to traditional farming.

    Robin

  2. Colleen Biggs says

    Thank you for your kind words Robin. We will continue our work to set an example for other ranchers to follow. All the best, Colleen

  3. Drew Anderson says

    Can I repost this Understanding Ecoli and the Food Industry my Facebook?

    I prefer to ask before i do something like that.

    Thanks Drew

  4. Colleen Biggs says

    Hello Drew,

    Please feel free to use it on Facebook.

    Best,
    Colleen

  5. A. Keck says

    Thank you for highlighting the importance of reducing stress in these animals while on their way to slaughter. This component of the ethical omnivore movement is often overlooked by even the most well-intentioned farmers.

    Having access to "family owned provincially inspected abattoirs" is a blessing, to be sure. Here in the U.S., such facilities are dwindling, and the issue of E. coli aside, the USDA is making it more difficult for ethical farmers to manage their livestock in the last hours/days of their lives.

    Again, thanks for sharing your wonderful system.

  6. Colleen Biggs says

    Hello Existential Farmer and thanks for your thoughtful comments. Reducing stress in our cattle from birth to slaughter is one of our primary goals. Handling our cattle at the processing facility is something we quickly learned when we started this business 17 years ago. We witnessed human nature at several processing plants where the well being of the animal was not top of mind – getting the job done in a timely manner was much more important. Ask any hunter and they will agree that stress dramatically affects the end product. Ensuring our animals are treated with respect at the end is not only the right thing to do ethically, but it also results in a better eating experience.

    You are correct, there are few farmers that stay and witness or participate in the slaughter of their animals. While I understand from a personal level that this is not an easy process to be involved in, it is better to stay and ensure the animals you cared for are handled properly than not. I know the animals appreciate it on some level and I sleep better this way.

    All the best,
    Colleen

  7. Marny W says

    Fantastic explaination! All this mess with factory farmed meat and processing is just another reason why we are so happy to choose TK! Thanks so much for all you do! 🙂

  8. Colleen Biggs says

    Thanks for your kind words and continued support Marny, we truly appreciate it. 🙂

  9. Jane Lewis says

    Thank you so much for posting this! I heard an interview on CBC the other day and the ranchers in conversation spoke of Cargill and XL being the only processors of beef in the province. It seemed that TK Ranch and places like it would deal with smaller abbatoirs, but there was no mention of this on the air, so I started investigating.

    Great information to have on your site.

    Thanks again and take care,

    Jane

  10. sylvia says

    Hi Colleen, my family love your products as i plan on purchasing your products for many reasons both from an ethical and and taste point. I am aware of the humane way you are putting your cattle to rest. I am grateful and glad that the beef my family now consumes lived a full life and did not suffer. Are your pigs and chickens slaughtered in a similar humane manner Currently, I struggle with the consumption of pork I am glad they live a full life on your farm but would like to know if they suffer at the end of it's life?

  11. Colleen Biggs says

    Hello Jane,

    There would be little mention of the smaller abattoirs in the media because they process such a small percentage of the overall kill in Canada. Our processor only kills 40 head of beef a week and when you compare this to the 63,000 that are processed at Cargill and XL (combined) every week you can see why this is not really newsworthy. But it makes a world of difference to our animals and to us, and in the big picture that is really all that counts.

    Best,
    Colleen

  12. Colleen Biggs says

    Hello Sylvia,

    Thanks for your kind words. Our pigs and lambs are processed at the same plant as our beef animals. My husband handles them right to the kill as well to ensure they are treated properly. We have been working with Alberta Prairie Meats for 14 years and they understand and respect our program – that is why they allow us to assist with the processing of our animals. As for our poultry, our birds are eight to nine weeks of age at processing – compared to conventional chickens that are processed at five weeks they have a longer life. They are also given five to ten times the space most natural or organically raised chicken is given. Our poultry is also processed at a small provincially inspected abattoir that is located on the farm where they are raised. This is the most humane process because they are simply caught and immediately carried across the yard where they are stunned and then processed. Almost all chickens raised in Alberta – organic, natural and conventional – are caught and put into crates, then loaded onto trucks and potentially hauled long distances before slaughter (regardless of the weather). By utilizing a small abattoir we can limit the amount of stress our chickens and turkeys experience at slaughter and offer our consumers a more humane option.

    Best,
    Colleen

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