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Microbiological Guidance for Ready to Eat Foods

Revised guidelines for ready-to-eat foods

Revised guidelines for assessing the microbiological safety of ready-to-eat foods placed on the market are being launched by the Health Protection Agency today.
This latest revision has a different emphasis than previous versions. They are risk based focusing on public health, consumer protection, and provide advice on actions and investigations which should be considered.

They are intended for use by food examiners and local authority enforcement officers in identifying situations requiring investigation for public health or food safety reasons. They will also help to inform other health protection and public health specialists.
The main aim of the guidelines is to assess the microbiological safety of ready-to-eat foods at any point in the retail chain, e.g. retail, catering, wholesale, and port of entry (including food components such as herbs and spices). While they do not take precedence over microbiological criteria within European or national legislation they complement legally enforceable standards and provide an indication of the microbiological safety for foods where standards currently do not exist.
Dr Jim McLauchlin, Director of the Health Protection Agency's Food, Water & Environmental Microbiology Services, said:
"The food industry has a duty to ensure that micro-organisms are eliminated or minimised so that they can't cause harm to people's health. These newly revised guidelines will support food examiners in their investigations."
Samples covered by the guidelines include:
  • Samples collected during predefined sampling programmes such as the Local Authorities Co-ordinators of Regulatory Services (LACORS)/HPA national microbiological food studies
  • Samples taken at or during food inspections
  • Samples taken to confirm previous adverse findings in order to determine the scale of microbiological contamination 
  • Samples collected during investigations of suspected outbreaks of disease 
  • Samples submitted after complaints
The Agency will discuss with local authority colleagues timescales for full implementation of these newly revised guidelines.
Notes:
1) The
Revised Guidelines supersede those previously issued and have a different emphasis focusing on public health and consumer protection. They reflect comments received following a consultation process with stakeholders earlier this year.
2) Additional information on the bacteria that cause foodborne disease and those that act as hygiene indicators, on interpretation of test results, comments on poor practices that are likely to have contributed to adverse results and suggested appropriate public heath actions are now included in the guidelines.