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AMI Urges NAS to Consider Data Gaps Surrounding Microbiological Performance Standards and Relationship to Human Health

Wednesday, April 3, 2002

AMI Vice President of Regulatory Affairs Skip Seward, Ph.D., today urged the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) to identify and fill data gaps when considering the issue of microbiological performance standards and their relationship to human health. Seward, a member of the National Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Criteria for Foods (NACMCF), made his comments today in a public meeting of a special NAS committee that is examining microbiological performance standards.

Seward noted that NACMCF has just issued an interim report responding to questions posed by USDA about performance standards. "It is important to recognize that the initial questions asked of the subcommittee were based on a predetermined acceptance of performance standards. Only after the subcommittee convened several times were broader questions regarding the use and appropriateness of performance standards asked, in particular by Dr. Elsa Murano, USDA Under Secretary for Food Safety."

When establishing a performance standard, there are very practical considerations, according to Seward. β€œHow do laboratory science results translate to the real world of meat and poultry slaughter and processing? For those of you who have never worked or visited slaughter and processing operations, reach out to those on your committee who have such experience to check your scientific considerations against the application of that science for a balance that will work to improve the safety without establishing performance standards that put good companies out of business.”

Seward also said that it is important to consider whether sufficient data exist to link current microbiological-based performance standards to reduction in foodborne illnesses purportedly caused by meat and poultry products. He urged the committee to request that the Food Safety and Inspection Service provide data including: 1) the number of plants producing ground beef for which Salmonella testing has been conducted; 2) the results for each facility associated with that list of plants; 3) and from that list, those plants for which E. coli O157:H7 was identified in ground beef.

β€œThe review of these data may well show that in the majority of cases where E. coli O157:H7 was detected as an adulterant, the plant has passed the performance standard testing. Thus one might concluded that the Salmonella performance standard is not a good measure of public health risk for this product category,” he said.

Seward also stressed that AMI supports the conclusion reached by the NACMCF that performance standards that meet the principles outlined in the NACMCF Report are valuable and useful tools to define an expected level of control in one or more steps in the food production process.

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