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AMI Blue Ribbon Task Force on Listeria Monocytogenes Announces Recommendations To Reduce, Eliminate Pathogen

Friday, February 26, 1999

Washington, DC, February 26, 1999 – The American Meat Institute (AMI) today unveiled recommendations by its Blue Ribbon Task Force on Listeria monocytogenes (L.m) to reduce L.m. in the short-term and eliminate it completely in thelong-term.

The recommendations include a comprehensive research and technology agenda, public policy initiatives and consumer education programs. At the same time, the Institute, together with other members of the Joint Industry Task Force on Control of Microbial Pathogens, unveiled updated good manufacturing practices for controlling the incidence of microbial pathogens on ready-to-eat meat and poultry products.

“Since the 1980s, industry has used strict sanitation practices to prevent Listeria from entering or surviving in the plant environment or in products. However, despite companies’ best efforts, this elusive environmental pathogen can still sometimes contaminate ready-to-eat foods and grow, undetected, in distribution,” said AMI President J. Patrick Boyle. “Clearly, our industry needs new methods to ensure zero contamination – and we believe we can reach that goal reliably through new technologies.”

A key part of the Blue Ribbon Task Force report is recommending in-plant controls for preventing Listeria. These include:

  • Development of a model environmental monitoring program based on industry knowledge and experience to help plants direct their control efforts and verify that they are effective. Because L.m. is an environmental pathogen carried by air and water, AMI believes that implementation of environmental control plans are among the best weapons in the fight against L.m.
  • Investigate methods for pasteurization of packaged products including the use of irradiation.
  • Investigate procedures to retard the growth of Listeria in products, including the use of various food additives.
  • Develop more rapid analytical techniques for the isolation of L.m.
  • Investigate intervention methods and recommended good manufacturing practices to reduce the incidence of Listeria in raw materials.

    In its report, AMI’s Blue Ribbon Task Force said, “Government cannot make products safe, but it can provide a regulatory and legal framework that encourages the industry to use all available options to prevent Listeria in ready-to-eat products.” The
    Task Force proposed a joint industry and government forum to develop regulatory policies that will improve food safety. Initiatives in this area include:

  • Establishment of policies on in-plant environmental and product testing to minimize the threat of legal liability and USDA enforcement actions. Currently, a positive environmental sample can trigger a host of government actions, thereby discouraging environmental sampling. Yet this type of sampling is critical to preventing L.m. The task force said that definitive regulatory guidelines need to be developed to cover this area.
  • Conduct a risk assessment in cooperation with USDA to include dose-response relationships for L.m.
  • Conduct a review of international standards and policies, including the rationale for setting tolerance levels on certain products. A review of these policies is needed to focus limited resources on products that pose the highest risk.
  • Finalize a regulatory policy that would encourage industry sampling and testing in lieu of USDA random testing.
  • Develop an expedited food additive approval process for products and procedures that eliminate or reduce the incidence of Listeria in foods, most notably, irradiation.

    The Task Force also said that all segments of the food chain must handle and prepare food products – including ready-to-eat foods – very carefully to reduce the risk of listeriosis. Key recommendations in this area include:

  • Education of retail and foodservice customers about proper handling, sanitation and rotation of products.
  • Development of special cooking and handling instructions for high-risk individuals.
  • Review and develop changes to strengthen the food code.
  • Evaluate labeling changes such as proper handling and cooking instructions to minimize the risk of listeriosis.

    AMI’s Foundation has launched a fundraising effort to help cover the costs of these new initiatives and is inviting participation from government and other members of the food industry.

    AMI noted that although recent publicity has focused on meat products as a source of Listeria, many other products pose an equal or greater risk. In 1998, there were five USDA-monitored recalls of meat and poultry products for Listeria contamination, while there were 25 recalls of Food and Drug Administration (FDA) foods for the same pathogen. The non-meat recalls included cole slaw, frozen blueberries, smoked salmon, chicken salad, many cheeses and ice cream.

    “While we are primarily concerned with eliminating Listeria on ready-to-eat meat and poultry products, the entire food industry must work together to eliminate this pathogen from the food supply,” Boyle said.

    “We are trying to meet a standard that cannot be achieved in every case given the state of technology,” Boyle added. “But we are committed to developing our detection and prevention tools further to continue to reduce and ultimately eliminate this

    AMI represents the interests of packers and processors of beef, pork, lamb, veal and turkey products and their suppliers throughout North America. Headquartered in Washington, DC, the Institute provides legislative, regulatory and public relations services, conducts scientific and economic research, offers marketing and technical assistance and sponsors education programs.

  • For more information contact:
    Janet Riley
    Vice President, Public Affairs
    James Ratchford
    Manager, Public Affairs

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