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Listeria Risk Assessment Is Dynamic Work in Progress

Thursday, July 19, 2001

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA)/USDA Food Safety and Inspection (FSIS) Listeria monocytogenes risk assessment is a dynamic risk assessment that should be continually updated so that it can yield helpful information in the effort to prevent foodborne illness, according to the American Meat Institute (AMI). In comments submitted yesterday to the agencies, the Institute also commended their diligent efforts in producing a thorough draft assessment.

Along with the comments, AMI submitted new data to help fill some of the information gaps that the agencies noted when they first published the draft risk assessment. The draft risk assessment attempted to split the frankfurter category into two separate categories based on consumers who reheat hot dogs and consumers who do not. The draft risk assessment also lacked good data on the length of time consumers store frankfurters and deli meats in their refrigerators.

To help close the data gaps, the AMI Foundation contracted with Wirthlin Worldwide to collect data from consumers. The Foundation then asked Novigen Inc. to recalculate the risk ranking data published in the draft assessment using the new variables. The Wirthlin data show that 84 percent of respondents report storing their deli meats for seven days or less, which is significantly less storage time than the agencies had estimated. In addition, 72 percent of consumers report never having consumed an unreheated hot dog, while only 1 percent said they always eat hot dogs without reheating them. Based on these data, Novigen estimates that the average probability of consuming a frankfurter without reheating was seven percent.

The Novigen review “sheds light on how modifications to some of the assumptions with new and more complete data can produce significant changes in the relative risk of certain products,” AMI Vice President of Scientific and Technical Affairs Randy Huffman, Ph.D., said. “This indicates the importance of seeking additional data for certain categories and provided insight into how confident one can be in the final risk rankings.”

Huffman also noted that meat and poultry processing technologies can change over time -- changes that affect the chances that Listeria will be present on foods. An example of such a change might include the use of antimicrobial ingredients in meat and poultry products to reduce Listeria growth, were it present. Huffman asked that any future Listeria monocytogenes risk assessments provide detail on specific product types, processes and risk reduction strategies to allow for more precise discrimination of the risk a certain product may pose to human health.

In the comments, AMI said that is supports the concept of risk assessments and subsequent risk management plans, but that FDA and USDA should proceed carefully in this case.

“The concept behind establishing relative risk rankings is that resources can be directed toward those risks that are greatest,” Huffman said. “However, when the assigned rankings reflect significant fundamental uncertainties, the rankings cannot provide a sound foundation for effective risk management.”

AMI's comments are posted on http://www.meatinstitute.org.

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
Josee Daoust
Manager, Public Affairs

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