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Meat Safety: Prevention Better than Cure

03 December 2012

'Meat Safety - Prevention is Better than Cure' was the theme of a recent meat safety seminar by the University of Liège in collaboration with the UECBV.

Dr Krzysztof Jazdzewski introduced the morning session by highlighting the importance of monitoring activities for food-borne diseases and the need to decrease their number in order to achieve a strengthening of consumer protection.

He pointed out that this prevention of microbial contamination at all points of the food chain is key and then argued that, even if new tools such as anti-microbial treatments cannot replace hygiene requirements, it is worth to have discussions on the possibility given in Regulation EC/853/2004 to approve other substances than potable water for carcass treatments.

The discussions started few years ago where some concerns such as environmental concerns were underlined.

Taking on board such concerns, it is possible to set down conditions where such AMT could be used. It is necessary to be under strict controls of the FBOs who need to develop tools to ensure these controls. In Poland, discussions started to develop such a possibility.

The seminar will hopefully give orientations for the new Regulation regarding the two substances submitted to EFSA first and for further ones in the future, these providing further guarantees for consumer safety.

EU Legislative Framework - What is Allowed in the Food Sector

Dr Koen Van Dyck

Dr Koen Van Dyck reminded the audience about the relevant EU food law framework.

He explained that:

  • Some forms of decontamination are currently used for food not of animal origin in compliance with a specific legislation, such as, for instance, chlorinated water used as a processing aid to wash fruit and vegetables or irradiation.
  • The legal procedure of approval of AMT substances is the adoption of a Commission implementing Regulation in accordance with the regulatory procedure with scrutiny (PRAC). This requires a qualified majority vote in the Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health (SCoFCAH), and a three-month scrutiny period by the European Parliament.
  • A first authorization attempt was made in 2008 after a positive EFSA opinion. The authorization of chlorine-containing substances was unanimously rejected by the Member States due to concerns dealing with anti-microbial resistance and environmental aspects. The Commission listened to the Council and asked the EFSA to modify its guidance document1 accordingly. Four criteria must be fulfilled: safety of the product, efficacy of the product comparing with potable water, no environmental concerns, no anti-microbial resistance concerns.
  • Two procedures are in the authorization pipeline:
    • The use of recycled hot water in hot water treatments of carcasses and
    • The "lactic acid" (following the recent positive EFSA opinion in July) for beef - potential use for cuts and trimmings.
  • The seminar presenting the lactic acid for the purpose of use as AMT was in echo with what the Member States discussed during the SCoFCAH meeting on 17th October 2011.

Dr Van Dyck specified that each substance will be authorized for a specific use. For any extension of use, for example for pork carcasses, it will be necessary to introduce a new application.

Dr Van Dyck reminded that in any case, additional tools do not intend to replace hygiene requirements as a high level of hygiene is already ensured by the procedure in place; nevertheless there is still place for additional tools. It is compatible.

Safety and Efficacy of Lactic Acid for Surface Decontamination of Beef

Dr Winy Messens

Dr Winy Messens started by presenting the EFSA, how it works and its role of assessing the risks in order to provide the risk manager with an opinion.

This having been said, she presented the EFSA opinion on lactic acid, giving an insight into how the EFSA proceeded to assess each aspect.

Approval was sought for treatments:

  • Beef hides, carcasses, cuts and/or trimmings
  • Spray washing or misting
  • Lactic acid (LA) concentrations: 2% - 5%
  • Temperatures: < 55°C

On the toxicological aspect, the EFSA concluded that treatments with lactic acid will be of no safety concern, provided the substance used complies with EU specifications for food additives (Reg. (EC) No 1333/2008) and with the purity criteria (Dir. 2008/84/EC).

Regarding the efficacy, the assessment focused on the Pathogenic groups of salmonella and STEC/VTEC and on enterobacteriaceae as indicator. The overall reductions were over 1 log10 unit and in many cases were much higher.

Regarding the anti-microbial resistance, considering the extensive natural presence of lactic acid in fermented food, it had been concluded that development of enzymatic resistance to therapeutic antimicrobials as a result of exposure to lactic acid is unlikely.

Regarding the environmental aspects, the concentration of lactic acid just before entering the wastewater treatment system can be considered as negligible and an environmental risk assessment was therefore considered not necessary. Lactic acid concentration in water is not a problem because it is fully biodegradable.

Dr Messens presented as well the EFSA work on the dossier of recycling hot water as a decontamination technique for meat carcasses. In particular, no significant differences in efficacy between hot potable water and hot recycled water were noticed. The microbiological aspects can be monitored in the framework of the HACCP based system, ensuring compliance with microbiological criteria for potable water.

Hygiene State of Play and Further Improvements

Dr Nicolas Korsak

Dr Nicolas Korsak started to explain that, historically, the hygiene in slaughterhouses has never stopped improving.

The conditions today have nothing to do with the conditions in the past even compared to 15 years ago.

Despite the increasing level of hygiene a constant decrease in the European red meat consumption remains due to a lack of confidence on the consumer's side.

The main pathogen responsible of food borne diseases is campylobacter, before salmonella (for all food).

One foodborne outbreak case was linked to slaughterhouses in BE in 2009. Mr. Korsak showed what has been put in place since then, in particular regarding the salmonella surveillance in the pig sector.

He pointed out that there is an important disparity of figures among Member States also because food borne diseases in the EU are not always reported and therefore he argued the relative importance of statistics.

He stressed:

  • the importance of performing good baseline studies;
  • the importance of having harmonized sampling techniques in order to compare different Member States (MS). He quoted the features of carcass swabbing as very important in that direction;
  • the appropriateness to set at EU level the same analytical methods, equivalent sampling plans according to common protocols.

He concluded by highlighting the need to choose good indicators for carcasses to assess the improvement of hygiene in slaughterhouses and potential benchmarking. In order to judge about the efficacy of treatments, he maintained that an effective indicator is needed considering that the microbial prevalence in carcasses is very low.

AMT EXISTING PRACTICES: Advantages and Disadvantages

Prof Keith Belk

Prof Keith Belk explained the background of the issue, with the number of foodborne illnesses in the United States (US). He noticed that the EU has to face similar challenges.

He pointed out that his comments primarily focused onto beef:

  • In the US, physical, chemical, biological treatments applied alone or in combination have been studied and proved to reduce the number and the prevalence of bacterial contamination of meat surfaces such as carcasses.
  • Currently, the first issue in the US is linked to biological risks and it is always causing media attention and liability problems. In particular, norovirus is the leading problem also because of the high mortality rate associated to it.
  • Ground beef data from USDA show the prevalence issues directly linked to diagnostic capability. This process has significantly improved and opportunities to reduce the existing prevalence levels are available.
  • Pathogens in the environment are difficult to control. There are multiple hurdles technology in beef slaughterhouse: such as hide washing system; steam vacuuming; verify to highlight fecal contaminations; pre-evisceration washing; warm-water carcasses washing; thermal pasteurization of carcasses; organic acid spraying; various decontamination solutions. Prof. Belk showed the results of extensive industry sampling (to explore how to reduce microbial prevalence, extensive studies involving several institutes have been performed).

Prof Belk focused in particular on the use of organic acids such as lactic acid and acetic acid showing the effects after one or two treatments.

He stressed the efficiency, the approval at FDA and Codex level, the advantages as there is no limit in daily intakes, etc.

Further techniques were also presented such as the use of other substances [terpeneless Valencia orange (Citrus sinensis) essential oil] or of high pressure processing.

During a question and answer session, Prof. Belk specified that lactic acid is more used than acetic acid due to its market availability and its lower price.

Dr. Van Dyck explained that, in the draft proposal dealing with the use of lactic acid, no labeling provisions are foreseen.

Prof. Belk explained that US consumers are not concerned about the use of chemical substances as far as the substances are authorized and therefore safe, generally speaking they are more interested about the final safety of products.

About the use of steam decontamination, in order to respond to a call for clarification, Dr. Van Dyck explained that the change of colour for meat surfaces after the treatment should be reversible, it means that the aspect of meat has to be identical to fresh meat.

November 2012

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