Broken needles found in pork is a serious food safety hazard. Although such occurrences are rare, even one incident can damage consumer confidence in the industry. A commitment to zero tolerance by the whole pork chain is the only way to prevent broken needles from reaching consumers. Producers can play a key role in achieving this goal by following the practices described in this Factsheet.
Prevent Needles from Breaking
Use proper injection techniques
- Never straighten bent needles for reuse. This is the single most common cause of broken needles during injections.
- Never inject pigs on the move. Restrain pigs before and during injection with your arm and hands or a sorting board, according to the size of the animals to be injected.
- Change needles frequently. Replace a needle:
– after injecting 10 pigs
– after injecting one litter of piglets
– if it bends
– if it becomes dull.
- Use the correct length and gauge of needles according to the weight of the pigs. Inject pigs at proper angles to the skin (Figure 1).
- Always inspect needles for damage following each injection before releasing the injected animal.
- Use a plastic syringe whenever practical. Needles on plastic syringes will usually break off at the plastic hubs, leaving stubs that are easy to see and remove from pigs. Aluminum or stainless steel syringes are stronger than plastic ones and may not offer this advantage if a needle breaks.
Adopt good management practices
- Only trained and designated personnel should inject pigs.
- Inject pigs in the neck except for intramuscular injection of sows and/or boars, in which case a hip injection can be used according to the Hip Injection Protocol approved for the Canadian Quality Assurance (CQA ) program. For more information about the CQA approved Hip Injection Protocol, contact Ontario Pork, www.ontariopork.on.ca.
- Avoid carcass quality concerns by never injecting pigs in the ham (Figure 1).
- Manage needles on the farm through inventory checking and record keeping – what goes in, must come out.
- Establish a farm protocol outlining the procedures for handling any incidence of broken needles. Train and educate staff on proper identification and reporting of broken needles. Make this mandatory.
Adopt new technologies
Use detectable needles
The CQA program requires producers to use only detectable needles for injecting pigs. This type of needle can be more easily detected by high-speed metal detectors in packing plants than traditional needles. These needles are now commercially available to pork producers in Canada.
Caution: Detectable needles do not replace proper injection techniques and good management practices. Detectable needles that break must still be reported prior to shipping. In addition, packing plant metal detectors are not entirely fool proof in finding foreign materials. Some cuts of meat are not easily checked by the equipment and false positives or negatives are possible.
Use needle-free injectors
Needle-free injectors are a recent development. These injectors can be used for all sizes of pigs and are best suited for injecting large numbers of animals at one time, for example, when vaccinating. In addition to eliminating the hazard of broken needles, these products claim other benefits:
- no transmission of disease-causing biological agents such as Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome (PRRS) virus
- improved carcass quality
- increased human safety
- no need to dispose of used needles
Note: Injecting animal health products with needle-free injectors may be considered as off-label drug use. Consult your veterinarian before using this method.
Protocols for Handling Broken Needles
Needles can break during injections. When a needle breaks, take the following steps to ensure the incident is handled appropriately. Step 1. Mark the animal immediately
- Identify the pig with a permanent mark.
- Record the broken needle in the Treatment Record, including its location in the animal.
Step 2. Remove the broken needle
- If possible, remove the broken needle immediately.
- Make sure to recover all the pieces of the broken needle.
- Call the veterinarian if the needle cannot be removed.
Note: If the needle is not removed, it could lead to discovery either in the processing plant or in a consumer’s kitchen. In addition, allowing a broken needle to remain could compromise the animal’s well-being.
Step 3. Slaughter the animal on-farm
- If the broken needle cannot be removed, consider slaughtering the animal on-farm.
Step 4. Inform your marketing agency and/or your packer
- If steps 2 and 3 are not possible, then take the following action:
– ear tag the animal
– contact Ontario Pork and/or your packer at least one week prior to shipping an animal with a broken needle, or a suspected broken needle, from the farm. Be aware that different packers may have different requirements for identification and for notification
Note: Proper notification to Ontario Pork and packers must include personal contact. Make sure you talk to someone. Do not just leave a message or send an email. Shipping and/or receiving an animal that may contain a broken needle is significant. Notify everyone affected at least seven days in advance. Prior notice allows for proper arrangements to be made for the hog.
Pork producers can play a key role in prevention of broken needles. The whole pork chain must support zero tolerance to prevent broken needles from reaching consumers.
This Factsheet was authored by Wayne Du, Pork Quality Assurance Program Lead, Fergus, OMAFRA. The author wishes to thank representatives from Ontario Pork, Maple Leaf Pork, Quality Meat Packers Ltd., Conestoga Meat Packers Ltd. and Drs. Janet Alsop and Tim Blackwell of OMAFRA for their valuable input in the development of this Factsheet.
1. Canadian Pork Council. Canadian Quality Assurance (CQA ) Producer Manual.
2. Swine Medicines Manual, 1st edition, Ontario Pork Producers Marketing Board, 2000.
Figure 1. Injection Techniques for Swine. (Note: This technique does not apply to hip injections of sows and boars.)
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