Sustainability of safe foods: Joint environmental, economic and microbial load reduction assessment of antimicrobial systems in U.S. beef processing

Shaobin Li, Samson Zhilyaev, Daniel Gallagher, Jeyamkondan Subbiah, Bruce Dvorak

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Various antimicrobial interventions are applied sequentially in the beef processing industry to reduce microbial load on beef products by using intensive inputs (e.g., chemicals, energy), high strength wastewater, and potentially result in meat discoloration. This study serves as the first analysis to jointly evaluate environmental and economic assessment with its microbial load reduction of proposed antimicrobial systems in the U.S. beef processing industry to identify relatively sustainable systems that minimize environmental and economic impacts while providing microbial safe meat. Specifically, forty potential sequential antimicrobial systems were proposed and evaluated from three perspectives: microbial load reduction, environmental, and economic impacts, by meta-analysis, life cycle assessment, and operational cost analysis orderly. The results show that the antimicrobial systems applying steam pasteurization during the main intervention offer high microbial load reduction (>4.2 log CFU/cm2 reduction from a hypothetical initial contamination at 5.0 log CFU/cm2). Human health impact (31.0 to 65.6%) and ecosystem toxicity (3.6 to 12.5%), eutrophication (11.9 to 15.5%) and global warming (6.4 to 22.2%) are the main contributors to the overall environmental single score among the forty antimicrobial systems. Antimicrobial chemicals (up to 82.8%), wastewater treatment (up to 12.7%), and natural gas (up to 10.7%) are the three major drivers of operational cost for sanitizing 1000 kg hot standard carcass weight (HSCW). Devalued (discolored) meat due to contact with heat from steam pasteurization or hot water wash has a considerable increase in economic ($4.5/1000 HSCW) and environmental (especially at farm stage) impacts. Certain antimicrobial systems (e.g., water wash followed by steam pasteurization) were found to be more promising with satisfactory effectiveness, better environmental and cost performance under uncertainty (1000 Monte Carlo simulations). Results from this study can guide the U.S. beef processing industry to advance sustainability while protecting human health from foodborne illness.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)252-262
Number of pages11
JournalScience of the Total Environment
StatePublished - Nov 15 2019


  • Economic analysis
  • Environmental footprint
  • Food sustainability
  • Food-energy-water nexus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


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