USDA to air Listeria risk assessment at Feb 26 meeting

Feb 10, 2003 (CIDRAP News) – The US Department of Agriculture has announced it will release a draft report this week on the risk of Listeria contamination of ready-to-eat meat and poultry products  and will discuss the report at a public meeting Feb 26 in Washington, DC.

The draft risk assessment is a scientific examination of how deli meat and hot dogs can be contaminated by Listeria monocytogenes and other Listeria species during production and packaging and on the effectiveness of various control steps.

"The draft risk assessment is an important step in developing new regulations for addressing Listeria monocytogenes," the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) stated in a Feb 7 news release. The report will be posted on the FSIS Web site (www.fsis.usda.gov) on or before Feb 14, officials said.

The FSIS has been working on the risk assessment for months. Its completion comes in the wake of a listeriosis outbreak that involved more than 50 illness cases and caused seven deaths in the Northeast last summer and fall. In October, Wampler Foods in Franconia, Pa., recalled more than 27 million pounds of turkey deli meat after Listeria found in a floor drain at the plant was matched to the outbreak strain.

As a result of the outbreak, the FSIS concluded that some plants were not doing enough to control bacterial contamination and that the agency's inspection and testing program also had fallen short. In November the FSIS announced that plants would have to conduct environmental tests for Listeria and show the results to FSIS or else the agency would increase its own testing at the plants.

But plants that produce ready-to-eat meats still are not required to do their own testing of either food-contact surfaces or finished products. Consumer groups have criticized the FSIS for not implementing a rule, proposed during the Clinton administration, to require such testing. But the agency has said it wants to complete the Listeria risk assessment before setting new regulations. In February 2001, the agency proposed a rule that would require ready-to-eat meat plants to either adopt specific Listeria controls or else test food-contact surfaces, according to a Feb 6 (2003) Federal Register notice.

The meeting to discuss the draft risk assessment is scheduled for 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Feb 27 at the Washington Plaza Hotel, 10 Thomas Circle NW, in Washington. Written comments on the report can be sent to the FSIS Docket Room, Docket 03-005N, US Department of Agriculture, Food Safety and Inspection Service, Room 102, Cotton Annex Bldg, 300 12th St SW, Washington, DC 20250-3700.

Registration for the meeting will be on-site only, according to FSIS. Further information is available from Moshe Dreyfuss at 202-205-0260.

See also:

FSIS news release
http://www.fsis.usda.gov/oa/news/2003/PMLMrisk020703.htm

Feb 6 Federal Register notice
http://www.fsis.usda.gov/OPPDE/rdad/FRPubs/03-005N.htm

Previous CIDRAP report on USDA plan to increase Listeria testing at deli-meat plants
http://www.cidrap.umn.edu/cidrap/content/fs/food-disease/news/listtests.html

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