Combatting Food Borne Illnesses

by December 7, 2013

From an article I found back last year we might be noticing a change in what our livestock are eating.  Cows, pigs and even chickens are eating oranges and other citrus fruits in an effort to battle food borne illness in a green and safe way.

Animals shed salmonella and other organisms in their feces.  When animals are butchered some of these organisms may end up remaining, causing food borne illness that sicken millions of Americans each and every year.

Research has found that feeding citrus peel along with pulp to livestock actually lowers the number of harmful bacterias in the animals gut without affecting the helpful bacteria the animal needs to properly digest their own food.

Farmers have always used antibiotics to reduce the number of “bad” organisms in their livestock but research has shown the bacterias have become resistant to antibiotics resulting in serious human health consequences.

Animal rights movements and human health advocates have been clamoring for laws against the feeding of antibiotics to animals as disease preventatives and growth enhancement aids.

Scientists have been busy searching for alternatives to antibiotics that would keep animals growing and healthy but not contribute to the growing problem of antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria and pollution of our land and water. Microbiologist Todd R. Callaway and animal scientist Tom S. Edrington, with the Food and Feed Safety Research Unit in College Station, Texas; ARS animal scientist and research leader Jeffery Carroll with the Livestock Issues Research Unit in Lubbock, Texas; and John Arthington at the University of Florida in Ona took on the challenge in a different way.

Oils from citrus have long been used for cleaning and are known to deter pests, along with killing many types of viruses and bacteria.  Feeding the left-over peels and pulp that are obtained from citrus processing plants, researchers know that the citrus is relatively non-toxic to the livestock.  And the livestock enjoy the citrus and don’t require to be coaxed into eating the peel or pulp.

When oranges or grapefruit are processed for juice or sections, 45 to 60 percent of their weight remains in the form of peel, rag (the stringy axis and white fibrous membrane) and seeds (U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1962).  Mixing the fresh pulp with partially dried grass or with legumes is an alternative means of feeding the livestock over just having them roaming in an orchard.

Animals eating citrus products shed fewer bacterias that would contaminate food and or cause illnesses in those eating the butchered animal.  However the total elimination of harmful bacteria like salmonella is probably impossible, reducing bacteria does contribute to safer food for consumers.

Collaborations with University of Arkansas-Fayetteville researchers Steven Ricke and Philip Crandall have identified specific essential oils that kill pathogenic bacteria. Microbiologist Calloway is studying ways to make citrus waste into lightweight pellets so that farms away from citrus producing areas can share in the benefits of feeding citrus to their animals.

Because of the high water content and the perishable nature of the citrus waste, economically it can only be used close to the citrus processing plant. The feed is rather difficult to handle, will ferment and sour quickly, and can be a fly-breeding nuisance if allowed to spoil.

Citrus producers get an additional source of income from the waste products.  Along with the animals getting a tasty and nutritious feed supplement that keeps harmful bacteria from causing digestive problems, livestock producers get a reasonably priced, all natural alternative to antibiotics that food critics approve of. And people will have a reduced chance of getting foodborne diseases.

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