US food safety authorities have urged producers of ready-to-eat meats not to change listeria-related food safety practices in the run up to inspections.
In a letter from the US Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), the agency suggested that any changes to routine food safety practices may “interfere” with the assessment of processing facilities.
The letter follows a year where food contamination outbreaks, particularly listeria, hit the headlines in the US.
The notice provides instructions to Enforcement, Investigations and Analysis Officers (EIAOs) – those responsible for performing routine risk-Based Listeria monocytogenes (RLm) sampling or intensified verification testing (IVT).
Interfere with assessment
“This notice provides instructions to Enforcement, Investigations, and Analysis Officers (EIAOs) in performing RLm and IVT sampling in establishments that temporarily alter their routine practices in response to notification of FSIS sampling.”
“Such practice can interfere with FSIS’s assessment of routine conditions or corrective actions at the establishment and may limit FSIS’s ability to determine whether post-lethality exposed RTE meat and poultry products are not adulterated as required by the Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA) and Poultry Products Inspection Act (PPIA).”
The letter added that any changes to routine practices may not have been considered in the establishment’s hazard analysis.
However, the letter added that under some circumstances, establishments may “temporarily” change food safety practices.
“By altering routine practices, establishments may make changes that are not consistent with their documented food-safety system and that impede FSIS’s ability to assess the safety of the product.”
The FSIS notice, which was signed Daniel Engeljohn, assistant administrator for the Office of Policy and Program Development, follows a year that witnessed the worst foodborne outbreak in modern US history.
A total of 146 people across 28 US states were infected with any of four outbreak-associated strains of Listeria monocytogenes – 30 of whom died.
The outbreak, which is officially the most lethal since 1924 and the worst since modern US records began, was traced to a cantaloupe processing plant at Jensen Farms, Colorado.
Elsewhere, potential Listeria contamination led to the recall of dozens of products across the States.
FoodProductionDaily.com reported in November 2011 that 6 times as many food products were recalled in the US from July to September compared with the previous quarter (March-June).
Potential listeria contaminations accounted for 25% of nearly 40m recalled products.