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AMI Details Industry Advancements in Listeria Control At FSIS Public Hearing on Retail Risk Assessment

Tuesday, June 23, 2009
 

Washington, DC — Listeria monocytogenes (Lm) has been the catalyst for more changes in the processed meat industry than any other event in the last 30 years and the establishment of effective and attainable protection plans has been key to the industry’s successful evolution to a high level of control, according to John Butts, vice president of research at Land O’ Frost.  Butts spoke on behalf of the American Meat Institute Foundation at a Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) public meeting on its Interagency Retail Lm Risk Assessment.

FSIS and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have initiated a joint interagency risk assessment that will evaluate the dynamics of Lm contamination in retail facilities. This risk assessment will evaluate how retail practices can affect contamination and the relative effectiveness of various retail interventions. Ready-to-eat (RTE) foods, including cheeses, deli meats and deli-type salads, will be studied as part of the risk assessment. The purpose of this meeting was to solicit comments and input on how FSIS and FDA may conduct the risk assessment.

Butts shared with the committee the lessons learned by the meat industry during the evolution of the industry’s Listeria control efforts.  These efforts can be categorized into four phases that began in the early 1990s with awareness (recognition of the environmental nature of Listeria),  followed by enlightenment (recognized existence of growth niches and beginning of redesign phase), preventative (mapping of growth niches, establishment of intervention practices) and predictive (aggressive early warning sampling and intervention practices in place).

Butts also detailed the impact of the AMI Board vote in 1999 to make food safety a non-competitive issue and encourage collaborative problem-solving among members of the industry.

“Declaring food safety ‘non competitive’ and sharing the process control ‘best practices’ were key in the industry’s successful evolution to a high level of control,” Butts told those attending the roundtable discussion.

Since 2000, the prevalence of Listeria monocytogenes in ready-to-eat products has been reduced by 74 percent to less than 0.4 percent, Butts said. Butts also noted that since 2003 there have been no USDA-inspected plants linked to a Listeria illness investigation.

Butts said that as the scope of control evolves, there are some pitfalls to avoid, including punishment—either regulatory or corporate—for finding a problem. Butts also expressed his opposition to prescriptive government programs.

“Given room for discovery and continuous improvement, like habit-forming, change will be slow and gradual,” Butts said.

Butts also warned that there are some missing gaps between data from the meat processors to public health illnesses that should be considered when moving forward.

“AMI and the processed meats industry remain committed to solving the food safety problems associated with our products from the farm to the fork,” Butts concluded.

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