ANALYSIS - Changes to the European poultry meat inspection system are expected to come into force later this year, writes Chris Harris.
The changes will see a less invasive inspection of the poultry carcasses as they pass along the line and the introduction of a more risk-based system.
The new measures for meat inspection follow scientific studies by the European Food Safety Authority that were completed last year and cover all livestock slaughtered for the human food chain.
New inspection measures were introduced for pig meat last year.
Speaking at a recent conference staged by the English Beef and Lamb executive on meat processing, Javier Dominguez, the veterinary director and head of foodborne disease control at the UK’s Food Standards Agency said that with the traditional inspection methods there is an increased likelihood of cross contamination of carcasses because of the amount they are touched by the inspectors.
“The present meat inspection system was developed more than 100 years ago,” said Mr Dominguez. “Meat inspection needs to change to tackle human health problems. The slaughterhouse operator has a responsibility to produce a safe piece of meat at the end of the line.”
Mr Dominguez said that many of the public health problems are microbiological problems with pathogens such as Campylobacter, Salmonella and VTEC – E.coli - but he added that most microbiological problems cannot be seen and only a few hazards can be found through meat inspection.
“This is why meat inspection needs to change, he said. “Also we need a more cost effective programme of meat inspection.
“From a public health point of view the less we touch the carcasses the better.”
Mr Dominguez said that there is a need for microbiological analysis to provide more microbiological interventions.
However, unlike the slaughter line systems in the US, the EU does not use microbiological sprays to clean the carcass.
The current system for pig meat inspection relies of a visual inspection for both indoor and outdoor reared pigs and only if the inspector spots a problem can a more invasive inspection be called for.
In testing for Salmonella in pigs, a batch of 509 samples are taken and if there is a 10 per cent positive reaction or less, then no action is taken. More than 10 per cent positive reaction and action has to be taken.
The testing can be carried out either by the competent authority or by the plant’s own inspectors.
The traditional meat inspection systems called for every pig to be tested for Trichinella but as there has not been a case found in the last 50 years in the UK, testing is only carried out now on 10 per cent of pigs but all sows and boars and all outdoor-reared pigs.
Mr Dominguez said that this was proportionate testing, and he added that certain farms and regions can now achieve Trichinella-free status.
When the new poultry meat inspection regulations come into force later this year – probably in May – the main areas of control will be for Campylobacter, which is the major public health concern of the European Food Safety Authority at present.
The control in the slaughterhouse will be through good hygiene practices and the use of HACCP systems that will guide the meat inspectors. Biosecurity measures will have to be taken at evisceration, washing the carcase in and out and during chilling.
An application of antimicrobial treatments such as with peroxyacetic acid might be used to counter Campylobacter contamination but Mr Dominguez said its use has wider political considerations across the EU.
Following the introduction of the new meat inspection programme for poultry, the system will be introduced for cattle and sheep with a focus on Salmonella, E.coli and bovine TB.
Part of the design of the new systems is to introduce a two-way flow on information from the farm to the slaughterhouse and back to identify problems and improve control measures.
He said there is a need to introduce a more risk-based system and the authorities need to step back from the inspection process.
“We have to balance animal health and welfare controls and also be realistic about the data we are capturing in the slaughterhouse,” he said. “We need accurate information and it needs to be a step by step evolution.”