Foodstuffs of animal and plant origin may present intrinsic hazards, due to microbiological contamination. Microbiological criteria are tools that can be used in assessing the safety and quality of foods. Due to reasons related to sampling, methodology and uneven distribution of micro-organisms microbiological testing of finished food products done alone is however insufficient to guarantee the safety of a foodstuff tested. The safety of the foodstuffs must principally be ensured by a more preventative approach, such as product and process design and the application of Good Hygiene and Manufacturing Practices (GHP, GMP) and the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) principles.
The Community microbiological criteria for foodstuffs have been revised and certain important new criteria have also been set down. Commission Regulation (EC) No 2073/2005 on microbiological criteria for foodstuffs, applicable from 1 January 2006, lays down food safety criteria for certain important foodborne bacteria, their toxins and metabolites, such as Salmonella, Listeria monocytogenes, Enterobacter sakazakii, staphylococcal enterotoxins and histamine in specific foodstuffs. These criteria are applicable to products placed on the market during their entire shelf-life. In addition, the Regulation sets down certain process hygiene criteria to indicate the correct functioning of the production process.
The microbiological criteria have been developed in accordance with internationally recognised principles, such as those of Codex Alimentarius
Discussion paper on strategy for setting microbiological criteria for foodstuffs in Community legislation (document in Annex 1) (710 Kb) describes the Community strategy to set and revise microbiological criteria for foodstuffs in Community legislation. The strategy includes the principles for development and application of the criteria, and proposals for measures to be taken.
Scientific Advice on matters relating to microbiological risks in food was given by the Scientific Committee on Food and the Scientific Committee on Veterinary Measures relating to Public Health and is now provided by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).
Guidance document on Listeria monocytogenes shelf-life studies for ready-to-eat (RTE) foods aims to guide RTE producers in identifying the L. monocytogenes risk in their RTE foods and to provide general principles for the decision on when and which shelf-life studies are needed. The document may also be used by the competent authorities verifying the implementation of shelf-life studies.
Technical guidance document on shelf-life studies for Listeria monocytogenes in RTE foods provides specialized laboratories with detailed and practical information on how to conduct shelf-life studies (especially durability studies and challenge tests) for Listeria monocytogenes in RTE foods
Guidelines on sampling the food processing areas and equipment describes sampling procedures to be performed by FBO manufacturing RTE food which may pose a L. monocytogenes risk for public health in order to detect L. monocytogenes on the surfaces of RTE food processing areas and equipment
Further information on the EU Reference Laboratory for Listeria
Inspection Reports by the Food and Veterinary Office (FVO) with regard to food hygiene and microbiological risks are publicly available.
In order to support the Commission service and the Member States in the management of microbiological risks a network of Community Reference Laboratories has been set up.
On 22 May 2011 Germany informed the Commission about a significant increase in the number of patients with hemolytic uremic sysndrome (HUS) and bloody diarrhea caused by enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli (EHEC). Investigations concluded that a Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli bacteria was responsible for this outbreak. More information about this outbreak can be found here.