March 24, 2018

Meat Institute Has Beef With USDA Listeria Guidelines

The American Meat Institute (AMI) is not happy with how the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) handled the release of its updated version of compliance guidelines for controlling Listeria in ready-to-eat meats. The group says the USDA should have consulted stakeholders before drafting the guidance and takes issues with some of the language it contains.

Ready-to-eat meats including luncheon meats, cold cuts, other deli meats such as bologna, fermented or dry sausages and hot dogs are among the foods at risk for contamination with Listeria, a pathogen that can cause serious, sometimes fatal illness. The USDA’s recent guideline revisions pertain to “post lethality treatments” of those meats, meaning antimicrobial treatments that are applied to the finished or packaged product to reduce the risk of any contamination that may have occurred after initial processing or cooking.

Unhappy with the revisions and the way they came about, AMI, which includes companies that produce about 90 percent of beef, pork, lamb, veal, turkey, and processed meat products on the market, penned a letter to the agency and made it public. In the letter, the trade group asks the USDA to “clarify the purpose of the document and to work in a collaborative fashion with the industry to refine it in the same way that government and industry collaborated around the earlier Listeria monocytogenes control rule that has enhanced food safety and public health so significantly.”

AMI is particularly concerned with one section of the document that reads “information in the compliance guideline does not represent new regulations that establishments must follow.  Because establishments can choose whether or not to follow the recommendations in the guidelines, it is not expected to have a significant economic impact. However, by following the recommendations, establishments can strengthen their control programs, and decrease the potential of foodborne illness from their products.”  According to the group, “these statements imply that if the guidelines are not followed safe products will not be produced and establishments could be out of compliance.”

AMI also wants the guidance to say that the revision “Was not driven by any one incident, because percent positive rate has been decreasing in FSIS products, and there have been no major outbreaks from ready-to-eat (RTE) meat and poultry products. However, the guidelines were revised as part of FSIS efforts to continuously assess and improve the effectiveness of policy documents.”

The USDA has not yet publicly responded to the group’s grievances.

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