Microbiological criteria

Microbiological criteria

Foodstuffs of animal and plant origin may present a microbiological risk.

Microbiological criteria give guidance on the acceptability of foodstuffs and their manufacturing processes. Preventative actions, such as the application of Good Hygiene and Manufacturing Practices (GHP, GMP) and the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) principles contribute to achieving food safety. Microbiological testing alone cannot guarantee the safety of a foodstuff tested, but these criteria provide objectives and reference points to assist food businesses and competent authorities in their activities to manage and monitor the safety of foodstuffs respectively.

Commission Regulation (EC) No 2073/2005 on microbiological criteria for foods, applicable from 1 January 2006, lays down food safety criteria for relevant foodborne bacteria, their toxins and metabolites, such as Salmonella, Listeria monocytogenes, Enterobacter sakazakii, staphylococcal enterotoxins and histamine in specific foods. These criteria define the acceptability of a product or a batch of food applicable to products placed on the market. In addition, this Regulation lays 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. Scientific advice on matters relating to microbiological risks in food is provided by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

Discussion paper on strategy for setting microbiological criteria for foodstuffs in Community legislation (Annex 1) describes the EU strategy to set and revise microbiological criteria for foodstuffs in EU legislation. The strategy includes the principles for development and application of the criteria, and proposals for measures to be taken.

In order to support the Commission service and the EU countries in the management of microbiological risks a network of EU Reference Laboratories has been set up for Coagulase Positive Staphylococci, Salmonella, Campylobacter, E. Coli, Listeria monocytogenes.

Listeria monocytogenes

The Technical guidance document on shelf-life studies for Listeria monocytogenes in RTE foods provides specialised 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.

The Guidelines on sampling the food processing areas and equipment describes sampling procedures to be performed by food business operators 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.

The EURL Lm Guidance Document to evaluate the competence of laboratories implementing challenge tests and durability studies related to Listeria monocytogenes in ready-to-eat foods aims to set up a harmonised approach to evaluate the competence of laboratories conducting shelf-life studies (challenge tests and durability studies), in order to comply with the food safety criteria defined in Regulation (EC) No 2073/2005. This document is intended for use by national Competent Authorities (CAs), NRLs and other organisations that are involved in assessing whether laboratories are competent to conduct shelf-life studies related to Listeria monocytogenes.

Campylobacter

A European Union-wide baseline survey on Campylobacter in broiler batches and on broiler carcasses was carried out in 2008. See also "Implementation of the Directive" for more details on baseline surveys on zoonoses.

On request of the Commission EFSA has published the "Scientific Opinion on Campylobacter in broiler meat production: control options and performance objectives and/or targets at different stages of the food chain". The Commission has asked for an analysis of the costs and benefits of setting control measures for Campylobacter based on the EFSA opinion. The cost model is available in an easy-to-use excel file and can be adjusted to EU countries´ individual situations.

In 2014 the Commission organised a workshop on the control of Campylobacter in poultry. For more information see the following presentations.

2014 - Workshop on the control of Campylobacter in poultry

Salmonella

Special guarantees as regard Salmonella

When Sweden and Finland joined the EU special guarantees on Salmonella were provided as regards trade from other countries of certain live animals and products. The reason for these guarantees was the favourable situation as regards the Salmonella prevalence in those Member States and the strict programmes applied. Norway has the same guarantees. The current guarantees are laid down in:

(See Regulation (EC) No 776/2006

Other EU countries or region of EU countries can obtain special guarantees if it has a control programme recognised as equivalent to that approved for Sweden and Finland in accordance with Regulations (EC) No 853/2004 (foodstuffs) and 2160/2003 (animals).

A Guidance document on the minimum requirements for Salmonella control programmes to be recognised equivalent to those approved for Sweden and Finland in respect of meat and eggs of Gallus gallus is available.

2009 - Workshop on Salmonella Control in Pigs