The use of lactic acid to reduce microbiological surface contamination on poultry carcases and raw beef has been strongly supported by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) Board in view of its ability to “significantly” reduce the level of pathogens.
As the European Commission (EC) considers authorising the use of lactic acid as a decontaminating treatment in beef production, the FSA would like this extended to allow its use on poultry as well to reduce the high incidence Campylobacter infection in the UK chicken flock.
The EC is expected to vote on approving the use of lactic acid on raw beef this year.
Although preliminary studies in the UK have shown that lactic acid may be effective in reducing Campylobacter contamination on poultry carcases, separate approval by the EC would be required for its use in this area. The UK poultry industry is reported to be interested in the use of the technique.
Campylobacter is the biggest cause of foodborne disease in the UK and recent research suggested that between 35% and 80% of all human campylobacteriosis cases may result from chicken. Together with other activities on farm and at slaughterhouses, it is estimated that the use of lactic acid treatment could help to reduce campylobacter by between 15 and 30%.
The FSA Board agreed to support the use of lactic acid. Nancy Robson, former chair of the FSA Consumer Committee, welcomed the proposal, and said it was “not before time”.
Another Board member, Tim Bennett, a former president of the National Farmers’ Union, like the rest of the board emphasised it was not a substitute for good hygiene procedures, but added: “This is good for consumers.”
The Board did not feel that it was necessary to label meat treated with lactic acid.
FSA chief executive Tim Smith concluded: “The benefits are remarkable and they will, in my view, run over into the poultry industry.”
Safe and effective
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has already concluded that the use of lactic acid as a decontaminating treatment in beef production is safe and effective. EFSA has concluded that it is effective in reducing Salmonella, E.coli and Enterobacteriaceae to varying degrees.
Lactic acid is a natural product, common in many foods and can provide an antimicrobial function. At the level and temperature of use anticipated, scientists have confirmed residue levels would not present an issue for those with lactose intolerance or environmentally.
A previous EC proposal on the use of four chlorine-based antimicrobial treatments to reduce surface contamination from poultry carcases was considered by the FSA in 2008. The FSA approved its use in principle, although it did express some concerns about its environmental impact, which are not an issue with lactic acid.
Currently the US allows lactic acid treatment “routinely” on beef carcasses and views the EU’s ban as a trade barrier, according to Kathryn Callaghan, the FSA’s senior scientist for Campylobacter strategy. In the US it is applied as a simple spray or mist, she added.
Lactic acid’s effectiveness in reducing levels of E.coli and Salmonella was “significant”, said Callaghan, producing a 10x reduction in pathogen levels in all cases, and occasionally as much as 1,000x.