Chapter 4 - Meat Processing Controls and Procedures
4.5 Cooling of Heat Processed Meat Products

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The operator is responsible for ensuring that all heat processed meat and poultry products are handled and chilled so that the product is maintained in a wholesome and unadulterated state. A cooling schedule must be developed and filed for every type of heat processed product. The chilling process must be monitored to demonstrate that each lot complies with the validated established cooling schedules. Those records showing adherence to the schedule (product time/temperature) should be maintained on file for a period of at least 12 months beyond the shelf life (best before) of the product and made available to the inspector on request.

4.5.1 Cooling of Heat Processed Meat Products

Cooling must be continuous and begins immediately after the heating cycle is completed.

Most common food-poisoning bacteria can grow from 0°C up to 54°C; however, their range of rapid growth is from 27°C to 54°C. Thus, it is very important to cool product effectively but it is even more important to cool it quickly through this rapid growth range to prevent the outgrowth of heat shocked pathogen spores including the Clostridium species.

The operator must use one the following cooling schedules, appropriate to the product type, to cool all heat processed products in order to minimize growth of pathogenic bacteria in/on their products.

4.5.1.1 Requirements for Specific Heat Processed Products Using a Slow Cooling Rate

These generic requirements for slow cooling are applicable for a meat product that is formulated:

  • with a water activity (aw) of above 0.92, no less than 120 ppm of sodium nitrite (or its equivalent in KNO2) and a brine concentration of 3.5% in the finished product or more; or
  • with a water activity (aw) above 0.92, no less than 40 ppm of sodium nitrite (or its equivalent in KNO2) and a brine concentration of 6% or more in the finished product; or
  • with a water activity (aw) that is less than or equal to 0.92 at the beginning of the cooling process, with or without nitrite (such as dried products); or
  • with a water activity (aw) of above 0.92, no less than 180 ppm of sodium nitrite (or its equivalent in KNO2) and a brine concentration of 2.3% in the finished product or more.

Example:

Brine concentration in the finished product = [% salt / (% salt + % moisture in end product)] x 100

Example: If 2.8% of salt in the formulation and the end product has a moisture level of 72%, the brine concentration is:

{(2.8/100) / [(2.8/100) + (72/100)]} X 100 =
[0.028 / (0.028 + 0.72)] X 100 =
2.8 / 0.748 = 3.74%

Requirement for slow cooling:

Condition 1 and one of the two options in condition 2 must be met:

Condition 1:

The internal temperature does not remain between 49°C and 4°C for more than 20 hours;

and

Condition 2:

The cooling process:

  • causes a continuous drop in product's temperature; or
  • controls the product's surface temperature so that it does not stay between 49°C and 20°C for more than two (2) hours.

4.5.1.2 Rapid Cooling Rate

During cooling, the product's maximum internal temperature must not remain between 54°C and 27°C for more than two (2) hours nor from 54°C to 4°C for more than 7 hours.

Alternatively, products consisting of a piece of intact (excluding tenderized) muscle such as roast beef, moist cooked beef, turkey breast or pork loin, may be cooled to 4°C within 7.5 hours from the initiation of the cooling process while taking no more than two hours for the 50°C to 20°C temperature zone.

4.5.1.3 Interrupted Cooling Rate

Cooked products that are cooled from 54°C to 18°C within 2 hours may be held for up to 4 hours if they are:

  • kept below 18°C during the 4 hours, and
  • protected from post cooking contamination (e.g., covered, wrapped, etc.), and
  • cooled to 4°C within 2 hours immediately at the end of the 4 hour holding period.

4.5.2 Deviation From the Approved Cooling Process

Any deviation from the approved process must be assessed by the operator as part of the establishment control programs. If the product is deemed acceptable, there must be scientific evidence to support this decision.

Whenever there is a cooling deviation, if the operator intends to distribute the product, they must conduct a risk assessment on the product.

Computer modeling may be used to evaluate the safety of the product. Other parameters in evaluating the deviation must be taken into account. Review of the cooking process and product formulation must also be done.

The level of estimated increase in Clostridium perfringens concentration (log increase) will depend on the quality of data obtained by an evaluator and input into the program. Characterization of heat resistance of spores recovered from raw products would further facilitate the assessment of the cooling process parameters. The potential increase in the concentration of Clostridium perfringens during cooling depends on the concentration of heat resistant spores in the product. Cooling regimens for meat products should result in no more than a 1-log CFU/g increase of C. perfringens and no growth of C. botulinum.

End product sampling for Clostridium perfringens (viable cells) can be done as an additional safety measure but is not sufficient on its own.

4.5.3 Alternate Cooling Process

Any alternate cooling process must be submitted by the operator to the Inspector in Charge, who will consult with the Area Program Specialist. The protocol will then be evaluated by the National Specialist, Meat Processing in collaboration with the food safety group. The proposal must be supported by scientific data to validate the submission. Microbial testing alone is not sufficient for this purpose. This documentation package should include, but not be limited to, a recommendation from a process authority demonstrating that the alternate cooling process is as effective as the current performance standards.

The alternate cooling process cannot be used prior to acceptance by the National Specialist, Meat Processing.

4.5.4 Product Storage Temperatures of Heat Processed Meat Products

Refrigerated meat products which have been previously heat processed must not be packaged until chilled to 4°C unless it can be demonstrated, through a process validation, that packaging does not interfere with the cooling schedule or the product safety.

If kept hot, cooked meat products should always be kept at 60°C or above. Product temperature is to be taken and recorded on a regular or continuous basis during storage to monitor compliance with these guidelines.

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