Leading industry figures have urged for guidance published by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and Food Standards Scotland in 2017 – designed to tighten controls and prevent incidents of food poisoning from Clostridium botulinum (the source of botulism) in packs intended for use beyond a 10-day shelf-life – to be urgently reviewed.
In the absence of food poisoning outbreaks from these products – both in the UK and elsewhere, where less stringent measures have been applied for many years – existing controls have proved their safety, they argued.
However, the FSA’s Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Food (ACMSF) is awaiting the results of new research before it decides whether or not to call for a review of the guidance. The results are expected to be published later this month.
At the ACMSF meeting in London last autumn, Chilled Food Association director Kaarin Goodburn, who is leading the research project on behalf of the meat sector, and Professor Mike Peck, a consultant with QIB Extra, who is involved with practical aspects of the work, both questioned the evidence upon which the revised FSA advice is based.
Goodburn argued that the FSA guidance wasn’t used anywhere else in the world.
“For 50 years at least, primals and other forms of fresh meat have been packed in vacuum because it increases shelf-life and reduces waste,” said Goodburn. “So, it is absolutely well established and [as also reported by ACMSF member Alec Kyriakides from Sainsbury’s] there has never been a case of botulism with properly stored chilled foods – including fresh meat – anywhere in the world.”
Safety standards around the preservation of meat were brought into sharp focus in December, after several UK food scientists lent their support to a coalition formed to raise awareness of the health risks of nitrites.
The coalition, which includes several MPs and Professor Chris Elliott, director of the Queen’s University Belfast Institute for Global Food Safety, said there was “a growing consensus of scientific opinion” that nitrites posed a cancer risk. It called for the Government and food industry to do more to cut their use.
Industry trade bodies, such the British Meat Processors Association, stress that nitrates used as food preservatives do help to prevent botulism.