Decontamination procedures are vital in the war against germ transmission in the meat supply chain, although they are no substitute for a comprehensive health and safety policy.
That’s the verdict of ‘Assessment of the current situation and future perspectives: improving meat hygiene through decontamination’, a report for the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment, BfR.
The authors claim rigid hazard analysis critical control points measures (HACCP) within factories and stringent rules for breeding and keeping animals do not completely stop the spread of harmful pathogens.
Authorities are introducing new measures for battling pathogens, they point out. The European Commission is expected to clear the use of lactic acid as a means of surface contamination of beef carcasses in the next few months.
A range of other methods are used globally for decontamination, such as washing non-skinned animals, spraying with organic acid and treatment with hot steam, the report notes. And the potential of high pressure processing and cold plasma treatment should be further explored, it adds.
It is important to ensure water used for washing is itself not likely to contribute to contamination, it underlines. “High organic loads in the water and poor water quality due to a high content of ammonium, iron and manganese affect the disinfection result negatively.”
Other measures in some EU countries include the treatment of meat with ionising radiation or ultraviolet light, the report states. Chemical treatments such as the use of chlorine are not approved in the EU, but are applied in the US.
The majority of instances of Salmonella contamination on meat carcasses is due to cross-contamination, the document states.
Zero tolerance to fecal contamination.
This can be countered by measures such as zero tolerance to fecal contamination, fast and effective cooling, plus targeted cleaning and disinfection of slaughter machinery. Hygiene measures can be supported by the use of peroxyacids in equipment, the authors write.
Some decontamination treatments can affect quality aspects such as the colour of meat. But this should not deter food manufacturers from applying them, especially on meat for further processing, where appearance is not so important, they assert.
“EFSA [the European Food Safety Authority] stressed that decontamination procedures must be integrated into overall quality assurance systems," they add.