Controlling Food-borne Hazards through Meat Inspection02 August 2013
Harmonised epidemiological indicators for food-borne biological hazards to public health that are related to beef animals and their meat that can be used in meat inspection should be drawn up across the EU.
These are the conclusions of a study by the European Food Safety Authority for the European Commission.
The European Commission called on the European Food Safety Authority to provide technical assistance on harmonised epidemiological criteria for specific public health hazards in food and animals to be used by risk managers because they consider that the current methods for meat inspection do not adequately address the relevant risks.
These hazards include Salmonella and pathogenicverocytotoxin-producing Escherichia coli (VTEC), as well as Cysticercus (Taenia saginata) and mycobacteria, the last two being already covered by the current meat inspection process.
An epidemiological indicator is defined as the prevalence or the concentration of the hazard at a certain stage of the food chain or an indirect measure of the hazard (such as audits) that correlates with the human health risk caused by the hazard.
The epidemiological indicators can be used by the European Commission and the Member States to consider when adaptations to meat inspection methods may be required, and to enable the Member States to carry out risk analysis to support any such decisions.
The study shows that it is foreseen that the epidemiological indicators will be used in the bovine carcase meat safety assurance system outlined in the Scientific Opinion on the public hazards to be covered by inspection of meat from bovine animals, particularly to help to categorise farms/herds and slaughterhouses according to the risks related to particular hazards as well as setting appropriate specific hazard-based targets (hazard prevalence and/or concentration) in/on bovine carcases and, when appropriate, in bovine farms/herds.
EFSA says that risk managers should decide on the most appropriate use of the epidemiological indicators at the European Union and national levels.
Depending on the purpose and the epidemiological situation of the country, the indicators may be applied at national, regional, slaughterhouse and/or farm/herd level. The indicators can be used alone or in combination.
For Salmonella and pathogenic VTEC, the proposed harmonised epidemiological indicators include microbiology-based indicators, which will give specific information on Salmonella and VTEC infection or contamination in the animal, hide or carcase.
Harmonised epidemiological indicators based on audits at farm or transport conditions and visual inspection of bovine hide are also proposed, which will give a more general assessment of microbiological risk and, when used in combination with microbiological harmonised epidemiological indicators, will support assessment and knowledge of the Salmonella/VTEC risk.
The proposed indicators for Salmonella, pathogenic VTEC, Cysticercus (Taenia saginata) and mycobacteria may be applied to classify countries, regions, farms, slaughterhouses, slaughter batches and animals according to the infection status or risks related to the hazard.
For Salmonella and pathogenic VTEC, some indicators may also be used to evaluate the measures taken in the slaughterhouses to control the hazard or to assess process hygiene.
In the case of Mycobacterium,epidemiological indicators are suggested to enable surveillance for possible emergence of this rare biological hazard in European Union bovine animal production.
The accumulated historical data from implementation of the harmonised epidemiological indicators will be particularly useful for the categorisation of farms and slaughterhouses and may be applied to justify reduction in the sampling frequencies for the harmonised epidemiological indicators.
Most of the epidemiological indicators are proposed for subpopulations of bovine animals or bovine carcases at the farm or slaughterhouse level using a variety of methods, such as visual, serological or bacteriological tests.
Some indicators include auditing of the farms for controlled husbandry conditions or auditing of the transport of slaughter bovines, lairage conditions or slaughter methods.
In the case of some of the biological hazards addressed it is accepted that there is a need for more research to clarify the factors that place bovine animals at risk of infection, and the role of bovine meat as a source of human infections.
Comparable data from the European Union Member States were available for mycobacteria.
For each epidemiological indicator addressed, the key elements of minimum monitoring or inspection requirements are defined.
This includes the animal population to be targeted, the stage of the food chain where the sampling should take place, sampling strategy, type and details of the specimen to be taken, diagnostic or analytical method to be used, and a case definition.
EFSA recommends that the European Commission and the Member States define the harmonised requirements for controlled husbandry conditions and the details of food chain information to be provided that are referred to in the epidemiological indicators.
The implementation of the proposed epidemiological indicators will generate additional data that will provide a more precise picture of the epidemiological situation in the European Union for these hazards, and these data may be used to update the indicators, when appropriate.
EFSA also recommends that the Member States report the data generated from the implementation of these indicators in accordance with and using the framework prescribed in Directive 2003/99/EC.
The proposed indicators should be reviewed regularly in the light of new information and the data generated by their implementation.
The European Commission and the Member States should also organise training to ensure harmonised implementation of the minimum monitoring and inspection requirements of the epidemiological indicators, EFSA says.