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Listeria From December 2008 newsletter

Listeria criteria for ready to eat foods

Deciding whether a food can sustain the growth of Listeria monocytogenes is about to become very important to manufacturers of ready-to-eat foods. Unfortunately this is not always easy - so the EU is issuing guidance and we can help food businesses make full use of it.

Dr. Roy Betts, our Head of Microbiology, has been actively involved at EU and national level in the development of the guidance. He explains further:

"There are legislative criteria covering levels of Listeria monocytogenes in ready-to-eat foods. The level set depends on whether the food is able to support the growth of this microbe - with lower levels for foods that will support growth. If the product fails to meet the criteria during production, it cannot be put on the market. If it is found to fail the criteria whilst on the market, then the relevant authorities have to be informed and the product withdrawn or recalled. Obviously this is a very big issue for manufacturers of ready-to-eat foods. They have to understand whether their product supports the growth of Listeria monocytogenes."

Guidance and testing

The EU guidance that will help food businesses is in two parts. The first is to help food businesses decide whether they have the information they need to judge whether L. monocytogenes will grow in their product. If they don't, they will need to get their product tested. The second guide is for laboratories doing the testing - to help them establish through practical trials whether L. monocytogenes grows in the product.

Through Roy, Campden BRI has been involved in the development of this laboratory guidance. This has involved working with the Community Reference Laboratory for Listeria and other National Reference Laboratories from EU member states. We have also responded to requests from the UK Food Standards Agency to comment on the guide for food businesses and also the draft Codex Committee on Food Hygiene discussions on criteria for this organism, to help ensure that Codex criteria are consistent with the EU approach

Roy concludes: "We are keen to support members concerned about what the criteria means for them or their products. We can provide general advice, tailored training or practical testing, depending on their specific needs."