FSA board discusses food safety

By Linda Rano

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Foodborne illness, Salmonella

Today's meeting of the UK Food Standards Agency's Board will
include a progress report on food safety, highlighting achievements
but also flagging areas of concern like rising rates of foodbourne
illness.

One of the items on the table relates to foodbourne pathogens. The latest figures on campylobacter, Salmonella, E.coli 0157, Listeria monocytogenes and Clostridium perfringens) indicate a small increase of 1.7 per cent compared with 2005 - but this is the first increase since 2000, and there are fears that it could underlie a new spate of foodbourne illnesses. Listeriosis ​ Of particular concern is listeriosis, of which incidence is seen to have doubled since 2000. The cause of this increase has yet to be determined but it is being investigated through research into the epidemiology of the disease and surveys for the presence of listeria in foods thought to be linked with the disease such as retail cold sliced meats and pâtés. Similar increases in the incidence of Listeriosis have also occurred in other EU member states. Campylobacter and Salmonella ​ There are concerns that the agency interventions in partnership with industry may not deliver the strategic plan targets of 50 per cent reductions in Campylobacter in poultry and Salmonella in pigs. A separate paper will be presented to the Board meeting concerning Campylobacter in chickens. It notes that although there has been a reduction in contamination levels in chicken at retail there is currently a high prevalence in flocks. The agency is presently gathering evidence for new interventions to try and accelerate the rate of reduction and will consider with stakeholders the likelihood of their succeeding. The rate of Salmonella in pigs appears to be due in part to the current scheme not targeting a big enough percentage of problem herds. The agency is therefore refocusing its efforts in partnership with DEFRA and the pig industry. Specific measures are planned such as all assured herds being required to have a Salmonella action plan. Slaughterhouse hygiene ​ Development of a new tool to measure slaughterhouse hygiene, originally aimed at providing a tool for slaughterhouse operators to identify what they could do better to reduce contamination by human pathogens, has taken longer than expected. The agency now says it hopes to develop a new way of measuring slaughterhouse hygiene by the end of 2009 which will help operators identify effective controls and inform the negotiation of more risk-based EU meat hygiene Regulations. BSE/TSE ​ BSE has continued to decline and is now at a very low level in those cattle that are eligible for human consumption. The Agency will continue to contribute to the review of transmissible spongiform encephalopaties (TSE) controls taking place in Europe with the aim of maintaining effective public health protection at a level that is proportionate to the risks. The agency continues to promote and aid the development of a sensitive and cost effective TSE test that can be used on live animals. Incident handling ​ Compared with 2006 there is a marked decrease in the number of environmental contamination and veterinary medicine incidents, but an increase in those incidents involving natural chemical contaminants. There has also been an increase in the number of incidents classified as 'high', largely due to issues around traceability of products. The agency has been working with the food industry and other stakeholders to develop an incident prevention plan. Food allergies ​ Some of the major work being funded or part-funded under the Allergy Action Plan includes an investigation into the possibility of developing practical management thresholds for use by industry when making decisions about voluntary labelling (such as 'May contain' or 'Free From'); and by regulators when deciding appropriate actions to be taken when dealing with possible allergen cross contamination incidents. Marine biotoxins ​ The agency has an extensive programme of work in place to replace the use of animal testing in the statutory monitoring programme for the detection of marine biotoxins in shellfish. In the last year it has funded a programme to develop and evaluate a high performance liquid chromatography method. There are a number of future challenges related to the statutory requirement to monitor marine biotoxins and microbial contaminants in shellfish. Industry contributions to the cost of the programmes might be considered.

Related topics: Regulation & Safety

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