Listeria legislation not broken – don’t fix it!

CFA, its members and their retail customers,
have long been at the forefront of the development
of best practice, control and regulation of
Listeria monocytogenes (Lm) in the UK, Europe and beyond. CFA’s various Listeria guidance documents are available as free downloads.

CFA’s unique members-only dataset of more than three million food and production area data points, collected over the past 12 years, is the most comprehensive in the world. CFA and its members use the data to benchmark performance and to verify efficacy of hygiene control measures and that shelf lives are appropriate.

European listeriosis data consistently show UK rates to be half of that for Europe overall. Outside the UK, commercial enforcement by customers is often lacking and differing interpretations of regulations lead to a lack of consistent compliance.

Against this background the European Commission is expected to propose changes to Lm legislation (EU Microbiological Criteria for Foodstuffs Regulation 2073/2005). This is expected to require challenge testing to set shelf life, rather than the established and proven effective Day of Production (DOP) and End of Life (EOL) approach, coupled with storage trials.

The expected changes will particularly affect chilled foods made on the Continent, where shelf lives are substantially longer than those in the UK’s tightly controlled local market – but changes would also impact export to the EU. Increased waste would result from consequent reduced shelf lives, with increased prices from highly specialised and narrowly applicable testing – all with questionable food safety benefits.

Earlier this year, when the proposals came to light, CFA established a pan-industry group to respond to them. With a membership comprising trade associations, CFA members and retailers, and also liaising with European Federations including the European Chilled Food Federation, it is gathering information and intelligence to present to the EC to show that the proposed changes are not necessary for food safety, but the originally agreed approach that was adopted by the UK, is.

As CFA Director General Karin Goodburn MBE explains: “The systems the UK chilled food sector has in place to detect and control Listeria have worked extremely well for the last 16 years since the EU Regulations came into force. This is illustrated in our more than three million datapoints on Listeria – the largest data set of its type in the world. This is just one way in which we are able to prove that what is being proposed will not improve food safety.

“The EU’s approach is also flawed in that it only covers the testing of food and does not address critical hygienic control of the food production environment. We can see no obvious public health or sustainability benefit to the changes and will continue to lobby the EC to retain the DOP/EOL and storage trial approach as it is demonstrably highly effective. In short, when it comes to European Listeria legislation – it’s not broken, please don’t fix it!”