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Statement of the American Meat Institute on Draft Listeria Risk Assessment and Action Plan

Thursday, January 18, 2001

We applaud the government's comprehensive approach to both the draft Listeria risk assessment and action plan: both examined the full spectrum of ready-to-eat foods to explore ways to reduce listeriosis, a very rare, but serious foodborne illness. The government ought to use this broad approach in all of its efforts to reduce foodborne illness. AMI looks forward to reviewing and commenting upon the draft risk assessment.

The meat and poultry industry has made significant progress in its battle against Listeria monocytogenes (L.m.). First, we have reduced the incidence of this bacteria in hot dogs and luncheon meats, as documented by both government and industry. Second, we have developed numerous technologies, ingredients and practices to prevent L.m. from contaminating our products. Third, we have aggressively educated our managers and workers about the latest improvements in L.m. prevention. Fourth, we have stepped up voluntary Listeria testing in our plants. Fifth, we have worked through the Partnership for Food Safety Education to provide food safety information to consumers and healthcare providers about listeriosis prevention among at-risk consumers.

If the government's final risk assessment suggests that any new regulatory actions should be taken, such as new "use-by" labels for consumers, then we believe such actions should be applied evenly across the ready-to-eat food industry. It is unfair to inform consumers about safe handling to avoid listeriosis on only some of the recognized food vectors.

Similarly, if the final risk assessment suggests a need for new microbiological testing, then such testing should be applied evenly across the ready-to-eat food industry. It is unfair to sample some foods known to support the growth of L.m. but not others.

We commend the government for its efforts to educate consumers who are at risk for listeriosis -- the elderly, newborns, immunocompromised people, pregnant women -- and their healthcare providers. Research shows that these providers generally overlook food safety issues when counseling their patients. New physician information from the Partnership for Food Safety Education, the American Medical Association and the government, due out this month, will help providers better inform their at-risk patients and protect them from listeriosis.

Finally, we agree with the comments of an FDA official last year at a Georgetown University Listeria Conference: There are no high risk foods, but there are high risk people. We hope that the risk assessment and action plan will be viewed with this in mind.

For more information contact:
Janet Riley
Vice President, Public Affairs
Josee Daoust
Manager, Public Affairs

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