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Food and Feed Safety (23-06-2005)

Standing Committee Backs Proposal on Microbiological Criteria in Foodstuffs

The Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health (SCFCAH) on June 22nd endorsed a draft Regulation to upgrade and modernise microbiological criteria for foodstuffs. The Regulation is a major piece of legislation, as it provides for the harmonisation of biological criteria for foodstuffs throughout the EU, which will benefit intra-Community trade and give a common basis for products imported from third countries. It aims to increase consumer protection and reduce the number of food borne illnesses, while also improving fair competition between food operators. This dossier has been intensively discussed with Member States and stakeholders over a 4 year period, and the Regulation was drawn up on the basis of new developments in the food sector and the latest scientific advice. The main food categories are covered in relation to a number of pathogens such as Salmonella and Listeria, and other pathogens may be added in the future, following EFSA evaluations. Food operators will be primarily responsible for ensuring that the criteria are complied with during production and also, as regards pathogenic bacteria, during the entire shelf-life of the products.

The Regulation sets strict Salmonella criteria for minced meat, meat preparations and meat products, which means that all five sample units tested for Salmonella must be negative. This stricter criterion applies to intra-Community trade and to imports. In addition, the Regulation includes a transitional derogation for the Member States to apply a less stringent criterion for products intended to be eaten cooked, where a batch with one out of five sample units being salmonella positive may stay on the national market. These batches must be labelled to indicate that they are only for the domestic market. The transitional derogation is conditional, among other things, on the Member State notifying the Commission and the other Member States. The next step in the procedure before this legislation can be implemented is to send the Regulation to the secretariat of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) for consultation under the Sanitary and Phytosanitary procedures of the WTO. Member countries will have 60 days, from the date the secretariat publishes the notification, in which to comment.