RESTON, Va. – “Pasteurized” is a term that should be approved to place on qualified meat and poultry products. The North American Meat Processors Association (NAMP) made this statement in a May 2 petition to the US Food Safety Inspection Service – and in a request to the Canadian Food Inspection Service.

Pasteurization is a process that has traditionally been applied to the heat treatment of milk, beer and other liquid foods to control food pathogens. Most recently, the process has been applied to other foods, such as crabmeat, eggs and shellfish. This petition is not addressing irradiation. which is classified as a food additive.

“Technologies have emerged that allow for the pasteurization of certain meat and poultry products, and the term ‘pasteurized’ best describes these products to consumers,” said Phil Kimball, NAMP executive director. “NAMP asks FSIS to approve immediately the use of the term ‘pasteurized’ on labels for certain categories of products, and issue a communication clarifying its policy.

“As a matter of process we would note that, for certain categories of products, FSIS acceptance of pasteurization claims can be conveyed immediately through the issuance of routine label approvals,” he added. “FSIS is legally required to accept the use of such terminology unless it can reasonably assert that the use of such a claim on a given label is either false or misleading.

Clearly, that is not the case for fully cooked products or products that have otherwise been processed in a manner that has effectively eliminated potential public health risks from pathogenic organisms, particularly when firms have repeatedly validated this outcome, Kimball continued.

It would be advisable for FSIS to issue some sort of public guidance or other communication clarifying its policy in this area, Kimball added.

“The characterization of such products as ‘pasteurized’ is entirely accurate, and FSIS should not have any problem with the sanction of such claims,” said Bob Hibbert of the K&L Gates law firm, NAMP legal counsel and a former director of USDA’s standards and labeling staff.

Another category of products needs additional work to establish acceptable parameters for such claims, the association said. In raw beef products, it may be a validated 5-log reduction inE. coliO157:H7 andSalmonella. For cooked, RTE products, performance standards might include a lethality treatment and a post-lethality treatment. The definition by the US National Advisory Committee on Microbiological Criteria for Foods (NACMCF) should serve as the continuing benchmark, NAMP stated.

“The NAMP petition cites high hydrostatic pressure as an example of one of the emerging technologies that allows for the pasteurization of meat and poultry products,” said Dr. James Marsden, NAMP’s senior science advisor and Regents’ Distinguished Professor at Kansas State University. “This technology is widely used to treat sliced processed meat and poultry products to eliminate the risk of Listeria monocytogenes, but consumers are unaware that the treated products are ‘pasteurized’ because the term doesn’t appear on the product label.”