The European Food Safety Authority has published a scientific opinion suggesting that traditional poultry meat inspection may not suffice to fully address the most relevant biological hazards to public health: Campylobacter spp., Salmonella spp. and ESBL/AmpC gene-carrying bacteria.
The opinion provides a scientific basis for the modernization of poultry meat inspection and proposes that risk-based interventions coupled with the improved use of information shared between farms and abattoirs, known as Food Chain Information, would be more effective. Such information would also play an important role in identifying animal health and welfare issues.
Finally, the authority concludes that chemical substances found in poultry meat are unlikely to pose an immediate or acute health threat to consumers.
In addition to identifying and ranking the main risks for public health from the current poultry meat inspection system, the authority was asked to: assess the strengths and weaknesses of the current inspection methodology; recommend methods that take into account the hazards not addressed by current meat inspection; and recommend adaptations of methods and/or frequency of inspections based on the hazard rankings and harmonized epidemiological indicators.
Regarding biological hazards, the European Food Safety Authority’s main recommendations are to:
- Introduce a comprehensive food safety assurance system, including clear targets for what should be achieved in poultry carcasses and, where appropriate, with respect to a particular hazard for poultry flocks;
- Utilize a variety of control options available for the main hazards, at both farm and abattoir level, in order to meet these targets; and
- Collect and analyze Food Chain Information at farm and abattoir levels to enable risk categorization of flocks and classification of abattoirs according to their capacity to reduce carcass contamination.
Animal health and welfare
The authority has noted that meat inspection is a valuable tool for surveillance and monitoring of specific animal health and welfare conditions. If, as according to its recommendations, visual post-mortem inspection is removed, other approaches should be applied to compensate for the associated loss of information with regard to animal disease and welfare conditions.
Extended use of Food Chain Information has the potential to compensate for some, but not all, of the information on animal health and welfare that would be lost if visual post-mortem inspection is removed.
Dioxins, dioxin-like polychlorinated biphenyls, the antibiotics chloramphenicol, nitrofurans and nitromidazoles were identified as chemical substances of high potential concern in poultry meat, based on pre-defined criteria.
However, the authority concluded that chemical substances in poultry meat are unlikely to pose an immediate or acute health risk for consumers. As the risk of occurrence of chemical substance for individual farms and poultry species varies due to the diversity of poultry farming in the EU, the experts recommend that:
- Sampling of poultry carcasses should be based on the available Food Chain Information, including the results from feed controls and the frequency of sampling for farms should be adjusted accordingly;
- Control programs for residues and contaminants should include new and emerging substances and should be regularly updated.
The European Food Safety Authority also proposes harmonized epidemiological indicators for the food-borne biological hazards highlighted by the opinion. The indicators would be particularly useful in the context of the proposed comprehensive food safety assurance system, enabling the categorization of farms, flocks and abattoirs according to risk as well as the setting of targets for final chilled carcasses.