Select Committee on Food Standards First Report


MEMORANDUM 2

Submitted by the Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Food

  1. As Chairman of the Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Food (ACMSF), I am grateful for the opportunity to submit this Memorandum of Written Evidence to the Food Standards Committee in connection with its examination of the adequacy, effectiveness and practicability of the proposals contained in the draft Food Standards Bill (Column 4249). Whilst I recognise that the Agency will have a very wide remit in relation to food assurance, this Memorandum focuses on the microbiological safety of food, reflecting the remit of the Committee which I chair.

ADVISORY COMMITTEE ON THE MICROBIOLOGICAL SAFETY OF FOOD

  2. By way of background, it should be explained that the ACMF, which is a non-statutory body set up to provide UK Health and Agriculture Ministers with independent advice, was established in December 1990, on the recommendation of the Richmond Committee,1 with the following terms of reference:

    to assess the risk to humans of microorganisms which are used or occur in or on food and to advise Ministers on the exercise of powers in the Food Safety Act relating to the microbiological safety of food.

  3. The ACMF is concerned with the whole food chain, from plough to plate, advising specifically on the microbiological aspects of food safety. The current membership of the Committee is as Annex A.

THE COMMITTEE'S REPORTS

  4. The Committee publishes Annual Reports, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8. These review the topics which the Committee has addressed during the reporting period, chart progress on implementing past recommendations, and summarise on-going and planned future work. Each Report also contains a Register of Members' Interests.

  5. The Committee has also reported to Ministers on a number of specific topics, viz vacuum packaging and associated processes,9 Salmonella in eggs,10 Campylobacter,11 VTEC,12 poultry meat13 and Foodborne Viral Infections.14

Report on Vacuum Packaging and Associated Processes9

  6. In this Report, the Committee drew the attention of industry, enforcement authorities and consumers to the potential risk from botulism if proper care was not taken over the production of extended shelf-life vacuum and modified atmosphere packaged chilled foods. The Report recommended that, in order to prevent growth of Clostridium botulinum and the production of toxin, chilled prepared foods with an assigned shelf-life greater than 10 days should contain one or more controlling factors in addition to chill temperatures. Controlling factors in this context included heat treatment, acidity and salt levels, and water activity. The Report made recommendations on the level of such controlling factors.

  7. It also recommended that there should be a comprehensive and authoritative Code of Practice for the manufacture of vacuum and modified atmosphere packaged chill foods, with particular regard to the risks of botulism. This should cover, amongst other things, awareness and use of HACCP—Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point, the systematic technique for the management of food hygiene practice in all aspects of the food chain.

Salmonella in Eggs10

  8. The Committee's Report on Salmonella in Eggs assessed the importance of eggs as a source of human Salmonella infection. The Report contained recommendations on the storage and handling of eggs and for an industry/retailer Code of Practice to be prepared and introduced. There were also recommendations covering the maximum time after laying by which eggs should be consumed, the refrigerated storage of eggs in the home, and the use of pasteurised egg for egg dishes intended to be eaten raw or only lightly cooked.

  9. The Report contained an unequivocal endorsement of the Chief Medical Officer's (COM's) advice that people should avoid eating raw eggs and that vulnerable groups should eat only eggs cooked until both yolk and white are solid. The Committee called upon Government to review the continuing need to compulsorily slaughter laying flocks infected with Salmonella enteritidis and to update existing Codes of Practice for the control of Salmonella in laying flocks. There was a recommendation for periodic surveys to monitor trends in Salmonella infection in eggs and topics were identified for future research.

Interim Report on Campylobacter11

  10. A major difficulty with Campylobacter is that most cases are sporadic and unconnected, making it very difficult to establish the role of different foods. A key thrust of the ACMSF's Interim Report on Campylobacter was the need for further research and surveillance on the organism, specifically in relation to typing, isolation and identification, disease causing potential, prevalence, transmission and infection—to fill gaps in the understanding and knowledge of this important food poisoning pathogen. The Committee also impressed upon industry and consumers the crucial importance of giving proper attention to effective temperature control, thorough cooking, the avoidance of cross-contamination, education and training. It was also recommended that all sectors of the food industry should adopt a HACCP-based approach to the control of potential microbiological hazards.

Report on Verocytotoxin—Producing Escherichia coli (VTEC)12

  11. The Committee's VTEC Report contained a clear warning of the dangers of this group of microorganisms, including E. coli O157, reflecting their capacity to infect at low dosage and the particularly harmful effects of the illness itself. The Report warned of the dangers of VTEC in meat products and strongly endorsed the COM's advice on the thorough cooking of burgers.13 It recommended the adoption of a HACCP-based approach to prevent contamination by, or the survival of, VTEC. During 1998 the ACMSF amplified its advice on cooking burgers and this was reflected in revised advice from the CMO.14

  12. A strong message from the ACMSF VTEC Report was that the sale of raw milk to consumers for direct consumption should be banned in England, Wales and Northern Ireland as it is in Scotland. The vital importance of carefully controlling pasteurisation in relation to milk and milk products and the need to avoid post-pasteurisation contamination were also stressed. The Report emphasised the importance in public health terms of good practice in managing outbreaks and the need for thorough epidemiological investigation. Other recommendations called for research and surveillance to fill gaps in knowledge and assist in the development of preventative and control measures.

Report on Poultry Meat15

  13. The ACMSF Report on Poultry Meat included details of surveillance showing that over one-third of retail chickens sampled carried Salmonella, a situation which the Committee regarded as unacceptable. The Report took a comprehensive look at all aspects of the production and handling of poultry meat from farm to fork and contained recommendations which the Committee believes will serve as a sound basis for improving the microbiological status of poultry meat through action at each stage of the supply chain. A call was made for ambitious but achievable targets to be set for bringing about improvements and the ACMSF concluded that it saw no reason in principle why the prevalence of Salmonella contamination in the finished raw product should not within the next few years be greatly reduced using existing available technology. The longer-term aim should be the effective elimination of poultry meat as a significant source of Salmonella in the nation's food supply.

  14. The Report contained specific recommendations for improved monitoring and research aimed at widening knowledge of Campylobacter, improving the design of broiler farm and hatchery buildings, upgrading feed mills, heat treating poultry feed, testing broiler flocks for Salmonella, improving both the machinery and the environment in which birds are slaughtered and processed, and more informative labelling of raw poultry products. Particular stress was again laid on the contribution which HACCP can make to the achievement of significant improvements.

Report on Foodborne Viral Infections16

  15. The ACMSF's Report on Foodborne Viral Infections assesses the significance of viruses as agents of foodborne infection in humans. The Report makes recommendations on a range of issues including improved surveillance, detection, reporting and control of foodborne viral infection; the effective enforcement of Food Hygiene Regulations17 and the development of more Guides to Good Hygiene Practice;18 the reduction of pollution-related illness associated with the consumption of raw or lightly cooked bivalve molluscan shellfish; and the control of sewage sludge and the implications of contamination of crops with human waste material.

  16. Our Report also calls for research into effective food sanitation measures to remove or inactivate foodborne viruses, and for the maintenance of the research effort aimed at detecting and isolating viruses in shellfish, on alternative viral indicators, and on behaviour of viruses during depuration. The Report also calls for research on the behaviour of viruses during sewage treatment processes.

ACTION ON REPORTS

  17. It is the Government's practice to issue formal responses to the ACMSF's Reports.19,20,21,22,23,24 Examples of developments which have flowed as a direct result of action recommended by the ACMSF include:

    —  the publication of Codes of Practice in a number of important areas, including the manufacture of chilled, vacuum and modified atmosphere packaged foods; the handling and storage of eggs from farm to retail; the prevention and control of Salmonella in broiler flocks; the control of Salmonella in animal feed raw materials and finished feeds; etc.

    —  the widespread dissemination, including through Chief Medical Officer announcements, of the ACMSF's advice on the consumption of raw and lightly cooked eggs and the proper cooking of burgers and similar minced meat products;

    —  enhanced Government research and surveillance programmes, particularly in relation to Campylobacter, Salmonella and E. coli;

    —  the establishment of Campylobacter reference facilities in England, Wales and Scotland;

    —  the introduction of a special emphasis programme to build on the recommendations from our Poultry Meat Report;

    —  the implementation of a national training and certification scheme for the red meat industry;

    —  the advice provide by the ACMSF to Ministers in respect of the use of antibiotics as growth promoters helped with the development of the UK's negotiating position for the recent EU debate on this subject;

    —  in line with strong and consistent ACMSF advice, the Government has increasingly encouraged the adoption of HACCP principles in food operations.

  18. The ACMSF has instituted a review of progress across all of the subject-specific reports for which formal Government responses have so far been issued.

CURRENT WORKING GROUPS

  19. The ACMSF Working Group on Microbial Antibiotic Resistance in relation to Food Safety has completed its work and has recently submitted its Report to Ministers. The Report is a comprehensive study of this important topic. It assesses the risks from antibiotic resistant microorganisms entering the food chain and considers the need for action to protect public health. It proposed a new approach to the use of antimicrobials in the rearing of food animals.

  20. A Working Group on Salmonella in Eggs was set up in 1998 to establish the factors which determine the presence of Salmonella contamination in or on eggs and to recommend measures to reduce such contamination and consumers' exposure to it. The setting up of this Working Group reflects the results of a study of Salmonella contamination of UK-produced retail eggs25 showing that the overall contamination rate had not improved significantly since a familiar survey carried out in 1991.26, 27

MISCELLANEOUS ADVICE

  21. In addition to the advice provided through its subject-specific reports, the ACMSF also provides assessments of the human health implications of a range of microbiological food safety issues referred to it by Government. In the past year, topics addressed include raw milk, agricultural disposal of sewage sludge, Mycobacterium paratuberculosis, and infectious salmon anaemia.

THE FOOD STANDARDS AGENCY

  22. The ACMSF welcomes the Government's intention to establish a Food Standards Agency and supports the broad thrust of the draft Bill. We expect the setting up of the Agency to provide an opportunity both for a fresh start on food safety and to restore public confidence in the safety of food. The tasks facing the Agency are complex and diverse. A sustained effort will be required if meaningful improvements are to be achieved. The Agency will need to give particular attention to the question of co-ordination across the UK. The food industry is highly integrated and pathogens are no respects of geographical boundaries. There could be very real implications for food safety, if, for example, the establishment of separate advisory committees in the constituent parts of the UK give rise to fundamental differences of approach in tackling food safety issues.

  23. The ACMSF recognises that its own position will change once the Agency is established and that the focus of the Committee's advice will shift to the Agency. The Committee will play an important party in support of the new FSA. The ACMSF has a powerful mix of skills and expertise at its disposal—lay members, medical, veterinary and microbiological experts, industry technologists, and public health and enforcement specialists. Microbiological safety is not a mater for microbiology experts alone. Matters such as kitchen layout, cooking, personal hygiene or factory operations can be vital and we benefit from experienced advice. Our Reports, which contain advice and recommendations of a scientific and practical nature, reflect this mix. The ACMSF has also agreed a number of measures designed to provide greater public access to our deliberations and recommendations. We are confident that we will successfully align our advisory work with the needs of the proposed new Agency.

March 1999



REFERENCES

  1. The Microbiological Safety of Food. Parts I and II. Report of the Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Food (Sir Mark Richmond). London:HMSO, 1991.

  2. Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Food (1993). Report of Progress 1990-92. HMSO, London.

  3. Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Food (1994). Annual Report 1993. HMSO, London.

  4. Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Food (1995). Annual Report 1994. HMSO, London.

  5. Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Food. Annual Report 1995. Department of Health, Wetherby.

  6. Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Food. Annual Report 1996. Department of Health, Wetherby.

  7. Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Food (1998). Annual Report 1997. Department of Health.

  8. Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Food. Annual Report 1998. In preparation.

  9. Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Food (1992). Report on Vacuum Packaging and Associated Processes. HMSO, London.

  10. Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Food (1993). Report on Salmonella in Eggs. HMSO, London.

  11. Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Food (1993). Interim Report on Campylobacter. HMSO, London.

  12. Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Food (1995). Report on Verocytotoxin-Producing Escherichia coli. HMSO, London.

  13. Department of Health Press Notice of 14 February 1991. Sir Donald Acheson's advice on cooking beefburgers.

  14. Department of Health. Press Release 98/316 of Friday 31 July 1998. Revised Guidance on Safe Cooking of Burgers.

  15. Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Food (1996). Report on Poultry Meat. HMSO, London.

  16. Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Food. Report on Foodborne Viral Infections; 1998. London : The Stationery Office.

  17. The Food Safety (General Food Hygiene) Regulations 1995. SI 1995 No. 1763.

  18. Department of Health. EC Food Hygiene Directive. A template. Industry Guides to Good Hygiene Practice. Wetherby: Department of Health, 1994.

  19. Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. Department of Health. Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Food. Report on Vacuum Packaging and Associated Processes. Recommendations and Government's response. Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; 1992.

  20. Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. Department of Health. Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Food. Salmonella in Eggs. Recommendations and Government's response. Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; 1993.

  21. Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. Department of Health. Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Food. Interim Report on Campylobacter. Recommendations and Government's response. Department of Health; 1993.

  22. Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. Department of Health. Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Food. Report on Verocytotoxin-Producing Escherichia coli (VTEC). Recommendations and Government's response. Department of Health; 1995.

  23. Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. Department of Health. Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Food. Report on Poultry Meat, Recommendations and Government's response. Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; 1995.

  24. Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. Department of Health. Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Food. Report on foodborne viral infections. Recommendations and Government's response. Department of Health; 1998.

  25. Department of Health. Microbiological Food Safety Surveillance. Survey of Salmonella contamination of UK-produced retail eggs. In preparation.

  26. de Louvois J. Salmonella contamination of eggs; a potential source of human salmonellosis. PHLS Microbiol Dig 1993; 10(3): 158-162.

  27. de Louvois J. Salmonella contamination of eggs. Lancet 1993; 342: 366-367.



ANNEX A

MEMBERSHIP OF THE ADVISORY COMMITTEE ON THE MICROBIOLOGICAL SAFETY OF FOOD
Membership
Chairman
Professor D L GeorgalaIndependent scientific consultant. Retired Director of the Institute of Food Research
Members
Mr D ClarkeOperations Manager, Assured British Meat
Dr T ClaytonTechnical Executive, Marks and Spencer plc
Professor R J GilbertHead of Food Safety Policy Development, Public Health Laboratory Service. Visiting Professor at the Royal Veterinary College, University of London
Mrs P JeffordEnvironmental Health Services Manager, Gravesham Borough Council
Professor A M JohnstonProfessor of Veterinary Public Health, Royal Veterinary College, University of London
Mr D KilsbyHead of Food Microbiology Research, Unilever plc, Colworth Laboratory
Ms E LewisComputer consultant. Consumer representative
Dr M J PainterConsultant in Communicable Disease Control, Infection Control and Surveillance Unit, Public Health Laboratory Service (North West)
Professor S R PalmerChairman of Division, Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University of Wales College of Medicine
Dr T A RobertsRetired Head of Microbiology, Institute of Food Research
Dr N A SimmonsEmeritus Consultant in Microbiology to the Guy's and St Thomas' Hospital Trust; Honorary Senior Lecturer in Microbiology, St Bartholomew's and the Royal London School of Medicine and Dentistry
Professor W C S SmithHead, Department of Public Health, University of Aberdeen and Honorary Consultant in Public Health medicine, Grampian Health Board, Aberdeen
Dr J V StevensGroup Technical Director, Unigate European Food
Mrs B W ThomasConsumer consultant
Dr T D WyattConsultant Clinical Scientist, Mater Hospital Trust, Belfast




 
previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries

© Parliamentary copyright 1999
Prepared 12 April 1999