Ohio pork producers follow strict production guidelines in preventing the introduction of disease-causing organisms to their herds.

That’s important for consumers concerned about the recent H1N1 flu outbreak and its impact on pork safety to understand.

“First, it is important to note that the virus has not been isolated in any animals to date,” comments Steve Moeller, Ohio State University Extension swine specialist. “In addition, swine influenza viruses are not spread by food; therefore, consumers will not be infected with swine influenza from eating pork or pork products.

“Eating properly handled and cooked meat products is safe for the consumer. Second, it’s critical for consumers to know that pork producers implement extensive biosecurity protocols and carry out the best management practices to prevent the introduction of disease-causing organisms to their operations. These practices protect the pig, the producer and the consumer,” Moeller states.

Common on-farm biosecurity practices include strict control of human, equipment, transportation, vermin and wild animal traffic within the farm.

“Eliminating unnecessary traffic reduces the chance of disease transfer from animal to animal, human to human and animal to human, protecting the health of everyone,” he says.

To prevent and control disease outbreaks, a combination of animal care strategies, strict sanitation and vaccines are followed.

Common animal care strategies include animal segregation by age to maintain similar immune system function.

“Younger animals, similar to young children, are still developing their immune systems to protect them from disease,” Moeller says. “Through age segregation, livestock and swine producers can limit transfer of disease from other animals, particularly from older to younger animals. Segregation is often achieved by establishing animal housing facilities that are separated by distances of up to a mile or more if possible.”

Proper sanitation is another primary way to ward off disease.

“Manure may harbor microbes and pathogens that can contribute to unhealthy animals. Therefore, livestock producers spend a great deal of time and effort maintaining clean facilities, feed and water for their livestock,” he adds.

Health maintenance also requires meeting the basic needs for food, water and shelter for all animals, including humans.

“Producers routinely monitor the health of the animals in their herds through daily direct observation of each animal, providing added care to animals with compromised health, as well as oversight of the equipment, feed supply, water supply and environmental conditions to assure the well-being of their animals,” Moeller adds.

Pork producers, as do consumers, rely on vaccines to enhance or eliminate disease introduction.

“Scientific advances in disease diagnostics, vaccine development and effective vaccination protocols have allowed producers to provide protection to the pig for numerous harmful diseases while simultaneously protecting the health of the caretakers and improving the safety and wholesomeness of the food products at the consumer level,” Moeller says. “There are swine vaccinations to combat the more common strains of swine-specific influenza; however, the ability of the existing vaccines to prevent the new, multi-component avian, swine and human variant is not known.”

To reduce the chance of transfer of influenza from animal to human, human to animal or human to human, Moeller advises hog farm workers to practice good hygiene. That means thoroughly washing hands after handling animals, considering the use of plastic gloves and dust masks in swine facilities and wearing clean clothing and boots when entering swine facilities and between different production areas.

“Through multiple biosecurity approaches, swine producers continue to make the care and well-being of their pigs and caretakers a high priority as they strive to produce safe and wholesome pork for consumers,” he notes.

More information on biosecurity is available from Moeller at (614) 688-3686 or moeller.29@osu.edu, the Ohio Pork Producers Council or the National Pork Board.