This “worrying trend” was uncovered after the FSA visited a number of smaller manufacturers in June, said Kathryn Callaghan, from the FSA’s Hygiene and Microbiology Division.
Speaking at a conference organised by the Royal Society for Public Health, Callaghan said: “We know that in the past 20 years there has been an increasing trend for longer shelf-life products.
A lot of pressure
“I actually visited a couple of smaller manufacturers and they told us there’s a lot of pressure on them … to put a long shelf-life on their products.”
Food safety takes centre stage at Food Manufacture's Food Safety conference, to be held at the National Motorcycle Museum, near Birmingham on Thursday October 17. Conference details and early bird ticket price offer are available here.
Meanwhile, listeriosis, the foodborne illness caused by listeria, is relatively rare but causes more deaths from food poisoning in the UK than other foodborne bugs, according to the FSA.
Because of the competitive nature of the industry, Callaghan said the smaller manufacturers she spoke to “felt under pressure to put on a shelf life longer than they would comfortably like”.
This meant it was vital that the FSA worked with these companies to minimise any risks, added Callaghan.
The FSA is about to undertake a survey among smaller RTE and pre-packed meat manufacturers which she believed will throw up some “interesting findings”.
‘Didn’t meet the needs of small businesses’
Furthermore, she revealed listeria guidance for the industry produced, but not published, earlier this year “really didn’t meet the needs of small businesses”.
This is now going through a re-drafting exercise with input from organisations such as the Chilled Food Association, environmental health officers and small business representatives.
It is hoped the guidance will be published by the end of the year, with training sessions planned for January-March 2014.
FSA data shows that between 2000 and 2009, the annual number of laboratory-confirmed cases of listeriosis more than doubled from 114 to 234 cases in the UK. In 2010, there was a drop in laboratory-confirmed cases (to 174), although this remains above levels observed in the 1990s.
Listeriosis has a significant public health and economic impact because of its high hospitalisation and mortality rate. Most people infected with listeria are hospitalised and about a third die. The disease costs the UK economy an estimated £245M a year.