EFSA reviews poultry inspection public-health risks

by Staff
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PARMA, Italy – Traditional poultry meat inspection may not be enough to fully address the most relevant biological hazards to public health regarding Campylobacter spp., Salmonella spp. and ESBL/AmpC gene-carrying bacteria, according to the European Food Safety Authority’s (EFSA) scientific opinion published June 29. EFSA’s opinion proposes that risk-based interventions and the improved use of information shared between farms and processors would be more effective.

This information would also be key in identifying animal-health and welfare issues. EFSA concludes that chemical substances found in poultry meat are unlikely to pose an immediate or acute health threat to consumers.

EFSA was also asked to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the current inspection methodology; recommend methods that consider the hazards not addressed by current meat inspection; and recommend adaptations of methods and/or frequency of inspections based on the hazard rankings and harmonized epidemiological indicators.

Campylobacter, Salmonella, and bacteria carrying extended spectrum β-lactamase (ESBL)/AmpC genes – due to their prevalence and impact on human health – were identified as priority targets in the inspection of poultry meat at abattoir level. EFSA confirms current inspection methods do not enable detecting these hazards and do not differentiate food-safety concerns from considerations related to meat quality, prevention of animal diseases or occupational hazards.

EFSA’s primary recommendations regarding biological hazards are to:

• Introduce a comprehensive food-safety assurance system, including clear targets for what should be achieved in poultry carcasses and, where appropriate, with respect to a particular hazard for poultry flocks.
• Utilize a variety of control options available for the main hazards, at both farm and abattoir level, in order to meet these targets (some of these measures have been described and assessed in earlier EFSA opinions).
• Collect and analyze Food Chain Information at farm and abattoir levels to enable risk categorization of flocks and classification of abattoirs according to their capacity to reduce carcass contamination.
If visual post-mortem inspection is removed based on EFSA’s recommendation, other approaches should be applied to compensate for the associated loss of information with regard to animal disease and welfare conditions. Extended use of Food Chain Information has the potential to compensate for some (but not all) of the information on animal health and welfare that would be lost if visual post-mortem inspection is removed.

Dioxins, dioxin-like polychlorinated biphenyls, the antibiotics chloramphenicol, nitrofurans and nitroimidazoles were identified as chemical substances of high potential concern in poultry meat, based on pre-defined criteria. EFSA concluded, however, that chemical substances in poultry meat are unlikely to pose an immediate or acute health risk for consumers. As the risk of occurrence of chemical substances for individual farms and poultry species varies due to the diversity of poultry farming in the EU, the experts recommend that:

• Sampling of poultry carcasses should be based on the available Food Chain Information, including results from feed controls and the frequency of sampling for farms should be adjusted accordingly.
• Control programs for residues and contaminants should include new and emerging substances and should be regularly updated.

EFSA also proposes harmonized epidemiological indicators for the food-borne biological hazards highlighted by the opinion. The indicators would be particularly useful in the context of the proposed comprehensive food safety assurance system, enabling the categorization of farms, flocks and abattoirs according to risk as well as the setting of targets for final chilled carcasses.

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