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WASHINGTON - The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) yesterday released for public comment a report outlining the impact of the interim final rule designed to further reduce the incidence of Listeria monocytogenes (LM) in ready-to-eat (RTE) meat and poultry products and make recommendations for possible future actions.
The verdict: Overall safety of these products has improved in response to the Listeria interim final rule, because establishments have strengthened their control procedures, increased their testing activity, and taken additional steps to eliminate the pathogen.
“Under the Listeria rule, ready-to-eat meat and poultry products are safer and public health is being better protected,” Agriculture Under Secretary for Food Safety Dr. Elsa Murano said. “If progress continues at the current rate, we should achieve the Healthy People 2010 goal of lowering the incidence of listeriosis to 0.25 cases per 100,000 people.”
The report was prepared by a 28-member FSIS assessment team, which evaluated and measured the effectiveness of all aspects of the interim final rule, as well as the rule’s effect on public health, consumer education and its economic impact. The team also assessed the rule’s implementation in small and very small plants and retail establishments.
The report found that plants have either initiated or greatly increased their testing for Listeria or Listeria-like organisms on plant surfaces that come in contact with products after cooking. These testing data are available to FSIS inspection and are used to determine the effectiveness of sanitation and other control measures.
FSIS has also significantly enhanced its oversight of establishments producing RTE products, while providing incentives for industry to implement new preventive measures. The report makes recommendations in such areas as inspector training, product sampling, retail food handling, and communicating to small businesses.
The interim final rule requires all establishments producing RTE products that are exposed to the environment after cooking to consider LM a hazard likely to occur; develop written programs to guard against it and to verify the effectiveness of those programs through testing. Establishments must share testing data and plant generated information relevant to their controls with FSIS. Plants that rely on sanitation measures alone to control LM receive the greatest level of scrutiny from the agency.