Steve McCutcheon, CEO of FSANZ, said that since the limits were first set, preventative food safety requirements had been introduced and new limits had been established internationally.
“These changes mean it’s time to review the limits in the code to ensure we are providing a nationally consistent approach and, where possible, harmonising our standards with those set by international standard-setting bodies,” he said.
“FSANZ is also exploring what tools will need to be developed to help industry and enforcement agencies apply any new approach.”
According to FSANZ, Listeria monocytogenes causes listeriosis in some people. People particularly at risk of listeriosis include pregnant women, their unborn and newborn babies, the elderly, and people whose immune systems have been weakened by illness or immuno-suppressant drugs.
Eye on RTE foods
Standard 1.6.1 in the FSANZ food standards code for Listeria monocytogenes covers a range of food products for which end-product criteria have been established. The standard typically adopts a vertical approach whereby limits are provided for specific types of food.
Regulatory limits for Listeria monocytogenes currently apply to a limited number of foods—the limit generally specified is “not detected in 25g.” For ready-to-eat food products, the standard specifies that a limit of 100 cfu per 25g be allowed in one out of five samples.
Internationally, microbiological criteria have recently been developed via the Codex Alimentarius Commission for two categories: RTE foods in which growth of Listeria monocytogenes will not occur (<100 cfu/g) and RTE foods in which growth of Listeria monocytogenes can occur (not detected in 25g).
According to FSANZ, one of the reasons behind reviewing these limits was that over time, foods other than those listed in the standard have also been associated with listeriosis outbreaks, including cooked chicken meat, and minimally processed RTE fruits and vegetables.
“A product-by-product approach to setting regulatory limits for Listeria monocytogenes has meant that other RTE foods that may support the growth of Listeria monocytogenes may not be regulated equivalently.”
Another reason for review is that there is no clear point of application for the microbiological criteria set in the standard.
“Microbiological criteria should state the point in the food chain at which it applies, based on where maximum benefit is provided to the consumer that the food is safe and suitable for consumption.”
According to the FSANZ, under Proposal P1017 the body will look at three options. The first will be to include limits on the basis of whether the food is ready to eat, and can or cannot support its growth
The second option will be to delete the limits for Listeria monocytogenes in the standard and establish reference criteria for Listeria monocytogenes in RTE food on the basis of whether it can or cannot support its growth.
And the third will be to make no amendments to the limits.
The FSANZ has said that the review of the limits for Listeria monocytogenes is the first stage of a broader review of microbiological limits in the code.
The closing date for submissions on proposal P1017 is November 16.