Dr David Jukes, The University of Reading, UK

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Food Law News - EU - 2017

Commission Proposal, 2 May 2017

HYGIENE – Commission proposal to amend the temperature conditions during transport of meat

The Commission has published for consultation the following proposed Regulation:

A copy of the proposal is available on this site. See: Commission Proposal - meat temperature conditions.

The following are the recitals taken from the proposal:

 (1) Regulation (EC) No 853/2004 lays down specific rules on the hygiene of food of animal origin for food business operators. That Regulation provides that food business operators are to ensure compliance with specific temperature requirements before and during the transport of meat.

(2) In accordance with Annex III to that Regulation, meat, other than offal, of domestic ungulates is to be immediately chilled after post-mortem inspection to a core temperature of not more than 7°C along a chilling curve that ensures a continuous decrease of the temperature, unless other specific provisions provide otherwise. This is to be completed in the slaughterhouse chillers, before transportation may begin.

(3) On 6 March 2014, the Scientific Panel on biological hazards of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) adopted Part 1 of a scientific opinion2 on the public health risks related to the maintenance of the cold chain during storage and transport of meat, which concerns meat of domestic ungulates only. That opinion concludes that since most bacterial contamination occurs on the surface of the carcass, the surface temperature is an appropriate indicator of bacterial growth. It also provides for combinations of maximum surface temperatures at carcass loading and maximum chilling and transport times, which result in growth of pathogens (micro-organisms that cause food-borne illness) equivalent to or less than that obtained when carcasses are chilled to a core temperature of 7 °C in the slaughterhouse.

(4) On 8 June 2016, EFSA adopted a further scientific opinion3 on growth of spoilage bacteria during storage and transport of meat. That opinion found that some spoilage bacteria (bacteria which do not necessarily cause illness, but can render food unacceptable for human consumption due to decay), in particular Pseudomonas spp, can reach critical levels more quickly than pathogens, depending upon the level of initial contamination with spoilage bacteria, as well as on temperature conditions.

(5) The aerobic colony count must be routinely assessed by food business operators in accordance with Commission Regulation (EC) No 2073/20054 It can be used as an indicator of the upper limit of the concentration of any spoilage bacteria species present on the meat.

(6) Based on the EFSA opinion and considering the assessment tools available, it is therefore possible to introduce alternative, more flexibility approaches for the temperature conditions during transport of fresh meat, in particular carcasses or larger cuts without any increased public health risk, and without deviating from the basic principle that such meat should be chilled to 7°C by a continuous decrease of temperature. This increased flexibility would enable meat to reach the consumer more swiftly after slaughter, thus facilitating trade flows of fresh meat within the Union.

(7) While the alternative approaches are based on the surface and transport air temperatures, a continuous decrease of the temperature as already mandatory by current provisions requires that part of the body heat should also be removed prior to long distance transport. Setting a core temperature to which carcasses and larger cuts must be chilled before transport is a way to ensure that a significant proportion of body heat is removed.

(8) Regulation (EC) No 853/2004 also provides for a derogation from the obligation to chill the meat to 7°C before transport with regard to specific products under specific conditions. To avoid any misuse of this derogation, it is appropriate to clarify that this is only allowed if justified by technological reasons, e.g. when chilling to 7°C may not contribute to the hygienic and technically most appropriate processing of the product.

(9) Annex III to Regulation (EC) No 853/2004 should therefore be amended accordingly.

(10) The measures provided for in this Regulation are in accordance with the opinion of the Standing Committee for Plants, Animals, Food and Feed.

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