Food-borne pathogenic microorganisms are a significant cause of illness in the UK. Notified cases – cases that are reported to Local Authorities by doctors – more than doubled between 1988 and 1999. In the Food Standards Agency's first consumer survey at the end of 2000, 14% of adults said they had suffered from food poisoning at least once in the previous year. The Agency has set itself the target of reducing the amount of food-borne illness by 20% by 2006, which if achieved will have a direct benefit for consumers. Fresh meat production continues to be identified as a process where food-borne pathogens can enter the food chain and can be either the cause of illness directly due to inadequate cooking or, potentially more importantly, indirectly due to cross contamination of other ready to eat foods
In addressing the general objective to produce clean meat the programme of research has been directed towards obtaining a better understanding of the nature and distribution of food-borne pathogenic microorganisms from the farm into the slaughterhouse. In particular, the programme aims to provide data to underpin the development and application of HACCP systems in the production of fresh meat and contribute to the modernisation of Meat Hygiene controls as part of a 'farm to fork' approach.
The research programme covers two main areas:
Control of Contamination
- Within this strand of research the aim is to obtain a greater understanding of the distribution of microbiological contamination, in particular food-borne pathogenic microorganisms, within the fresh meat production chain and to devise techniques for monitoring, controlling and reducing the level of microbiological contamination on carcasses.
- On-farm research supports the Meat Hygiene Service (MHS) Clean Livestock Policy where animals pre slaughter are assigned into categories depending on their visual cleanliness. Only animals in the lower categories are slaughtered for meat production. The research aims to understand the distribution, shedding and control of physical and microbiological contamination during animal production. It includes all elements of animal husbandry, handling, transport to the slaughterhouse and lairage. The output from these studies will inform risk based intervention studies that aim to identify best practise measures that enable the livestock producer to present animals for slaughter that have minimal levels of physical and microbiological contamination.
- Research in the slaughterhouse has focused on identification of the major sources of microbiological contamination and the development of practical solutions for monitoring, reduction and control of microbiological contamination particularly in the context of HACCP principles.
- Risk analysis has become increasingly important with regard to meat hygiene as it identifies where resources and effort need to be applied to improve the status of meat and meat products both in domestic and international trade. Risk analysis techniques are being increasingly applied when assessing the validity of post-mortem meat inspection programmes and are also being developed and applied in animal productions situations.
- The objective for this strand of the programme is to assemble information that will enable the biological hazards associated with meat production to be quantified. The information will be used to contribute to the modernisation and development of risk-based meat hygiene inspection procedures.
The programme is due to run to October 2004.