The African swine fever (ASF), a viral disease that affects domestic pigs and wild boars, has been confirmed to be present in several areas in the Philippines. ASF does not directly affect humans, but parents are still worried: Is it safe to eat pork?
Secretary Francisco Duque III of the Department of Health assures consumers that “as long as pork is bought from reliable sources and it is cooked thoroughly, pork is safe to eat.”
According to the World Organization for Animal Health, animals such as domestic pigs and wild boars are the ones affected by this disease. The international organization notes that "ASF is not a risk to human health."
Secretary Duque reiterates this fact in an October 2019 statement, saying, “We want to emphasize again to the consuming public that ASF is not a threat to human health. Processed meat products are still safe for consumption.”
Here are some guidelines to help you choose meat products, whether there is an ASF scare or not, the next time you’re at the grocery or market:
1. Use your sense of touch, sight, and smell.
Don’t be afraid to look, smell, and touch the meat products you see at the store to pick the freshest batch.
When buying pork, it should have a pinkish-red color, while the fat part should always be white with no dark spots on it. The meat should be soft, firm, and cold to touch. Avoid buying pork that is pale in color, warm, and has a foul smell.
2. Always check the packaging.
Processed meat products in stores today are in sealed plastic. Since oxygen may speed up food spoilage, vacuum packaging helps remove air to preserve the meat longer. Don’t purchase a meat product when its vacuum-sealed packaging has tears or punctures, or if it has excessive liquid found inside.
While the metal cans used in canned meat do not have lead material in it, you still need to be wary of a toxin produced by the bacteria Clostridium botulinum, which can be fatal if consumed. Take a careful look when buying canned products, and avoid bulged, severely dented, and discolored cans.
3. Be mindful of the storage period.
The storage period or shelf life of your meat highly depends on how it was processed and packaged.
If you are purchasing fresh meat in a foam tray and/or shrink-wrapped, it should be consumed earlier compared to vacuum-sealed products like hotdogs, which can be frozen for more extended periods. Canned meat is usually okay for consumption until before the expiration date label on the can—typically two to five years from when it was manufactured.
4. Understand what the different date labels mean.
Confused with what to consume first in your grocery stash? Know the commonly used phrases when dealing with date labels.
“Best If Used By” or “Best Before” suggests when a product is at its peak taste or quality — not if it is still safe to consume. “Use By” indicates the last date a product can be used or eaten. “Sell By,” on the other hand, is a date for retailers to know how long they can display the products on their shelves.
Keep in mind, however, that proper storage is one significant factor that affects a product’s quality. Experts advise consumers to always check the food in their kitchen cabinets and refrigerators. If you’re not absolutely sure the food is still safe for consumption, throw it out.
5. Make sure the supermarket or grocery handles and stores products properly.
It is the store owner or manager’s primary role to make sure the retail area is safe for both employees and customers. When storing processed meat, the grocery must stock products that aren’t past their sell-by dates.
Fresh products and processed ones should not be placed side by side or on top of each other. Even if they are packaged well, cross-contamination may still occur.
And of course, store staff should maintain personal hygiene—like wearing clean clothing and gloves, especially when working in the meat and deli sections to prevent the spread of bacteria.
6. Buy products from reputable brands.
When our country is challenged with food-related issues, you must take care when choosing what to buy and feed your family. Look for brands whose products are not only delicious and affordable, but also prioritize how these are processed, packaged, and stored.
CDO Foodsphere, Inc., for example, uses sophisticated machinery plus a unique emulsification system to mass-produce its products, such as CDO Funtastyk Young Pork Tocino, CDO Karne Norte, CDO Bacons, CDO Holiday Ham, CDO Ulam Burger, CDO Idol Cheesedog, CDO Bigtime Hotdog, and CDO Bibbo Hotdog.
CDO Foodsphere, Inc. also adheres to the guidelines set by the Philippine Association of Meat Processors, Inc. for processing meat. These guidelines, which are based on internationally accepted standards, determine the precise cooking temperature and length for pork products like ham, bacon, and hotdogs.
7. Check the information found on the products’ labels.
All processed meat products must have stamps on their packaging. These markings inform consumers that the meat has been inspected and certified.
The government certifies companies — like CDO Foodsphere, Inc. — as duly accredited importers that obtain raw pork materials from ASF-free countries.
The company's products are also inspected and cleared by the National Meat Inspection Service and are registered under the Food and Drug Administration. CDO Foodsphere, Inc. even puts its products under comprehensive inspection from a third-party company that tests the quality of food products, among other consumer goods.
It’s okay to be more selective with the brands and products you buy for your family, especially when their health is at stake. But know that it doesn’t end with inspecting and selecting products. Parents also need to be careful in handling and cooking food at home.
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