ACMSF minutes: 7 June 2007

Meeting held at Aviation House, 125 Kingsway, London WC2B 6NH.


Chair: Professor S O’Brien

Mr J Bassett
Dr D Brown
Mrs V Buller
Ms S Davies
Prof. M Gasson
Dr R Holliman
Prof. T Humphrey
Prof. P Hunter
Mr A Kyriakides
Ms E Lewis
Mr P McMullin
Dr S Millership
Mrs J Morris
Mr R Rees
Prof. P Williams

Mr S Wyllie (Defra)
Dr J Hilton (FSA)
Dr S Neill (DARDNI)

Dr L Foster (Administrative Secretary)
Mr Ade Adeoye
Miss Sarah Butler

Members of the public:
Dr Bob Adak, HPA
Dr Roy Betts, Campden & Chorleywood Food Research Association
Mr Steve Batchford, Brakes
Mrs Judy Brander, National Council of Women
Ms Jane Duddle, Waitrose
Mrs Sally Farmiloe-Neville
Mrs Barbara Gallan, British Retail Consortium
Dr Kathie Grant, HPA
Miss Fiona Lock, Defra
Mr Alan Long, VEGA
Dr Barbara Lund, Visiting Scientist, Institute of Food Research
Mr John Matthews, Irish Food Processors
Miss Gemma Mulholland, Defra
Dr Andrea Patterson, Defra
Mr Rick Pendrous, Food Manufacture magazine
Dr Bernard Rowe
Ms Ceridwen Roberts, FSA Social Science adviser
Mr Michael Wood, Bodycote Norpath

Chair's introduction, matters arising and declarations of interest
1.1 The Chair welcomed ACMSF Members and members of the public to the 63rd meeting of the Committee. She also welcomed Dr Jim McLauchlin (HPA) who would be presenting agenda item 6 and Mrs Mary Howell (FSA) who would be presenting agenda item 7. Lastly she welcomed Mr Stephen Wyllie who replaced Paul Gayford as the Defra assessor.

1.2 The Chair informed Members that, in order to allow time for a full discussion on listeria, the agenda item on openness would be discussed at a future meeting. A short paper on Avian influenza had been added to the agenda item on Committee sub Groups.

1.3 She asked Members to identify any items for discussion under any other business at the end of the meeting. None were identified by Members. The Secretariat wished to raise two items.

1.4 Lastly, she thanked Professor Williams for agreeing to act as Deputy Chair for the Committee.

Apologies for absence

2.1 Apologies for absence were received from Dr Paul Cook. Members were informed that Dr Hilton would be acting as the Scientific Secretary for this meeting.

Declarations of interests

3.1 The Chair reminded the Committee of the need to declare any conflicts of interests relating to items on the agenda. She informed Members that, in relation to agenda item 6, she held an honorary contract with HPA. Professors Hunter and Humphrey and Dr Millership also declared similar interests. Professor Gasson informed Members that, in relation to agenda item 7, he held intellectual property linked to bacteriophages.

Minutes of the 62nd Meeting (ACM/MIN/62) and matters arising
4.1 Members approved ACM/MIN/62 as a correct record of the previous meeting, subject to a minor amendment to paragraph 10.4 penultimate line to read ‘to ensure that no turkey meat from control zones from Hungary reached the UK’. The Secretariat was asked to arrange for final minutes to be posted on the Committee’s website.

Action: Secretariat

Matters arising

5.1 The Chair drew attention to the Secretariat information paper ACM/846 detailing matters arising from previous meetings. There were no comments raised by Members in response to this paper.

Update on listeriosis in the UK (ACM/847)
6.1 At the Chair’s invitation, Dr Jim McLauchlin (HPA) presented an update on the continued high level of reporting of human listeriosis in the United Kingdom. He reminded Members that an increasing trend in listeriosis in patients over 60 years of age with bacteraemia was reported in England and Wales from 2001-2005 and that a similar trend was reported in Scotland in 2005. The incidence in Northern Ireland, whilst lower than in other countries, had also increased in each of the past four years. He explained that the increase did not occur in patients with invasion of the central nervous system (CNS) or in pregnant women. UK data up to the first five months of 2007 had shown a continued increase in cases of human listeriosis compared to levels recognised in the 1990’s. The increase was not artefactual or due to increases in blood cultures taken or improvements in blood culture technology as similar increases had not occurred in the over 60 years age group with Salmonella or Campylobacter bacteraemia. He outlined trends in listeriosis in other Member States and the US. Members noted that increases in listeriosis had occurred in other Member States over the same period. Dr McLauchlin explained that 67% of all cases within the EU were reported from UK, France and Germany. In Germany the increase occurred in similar age groups to that reported in the UK. A change in listeria epidemiology in US since the 1980s had also occurred. Lastly, Dr McLauchlin reviewed recent listeria contamination incidents occurring in the UK, noting that several of these were linked to sandwich consumption in hospitals.

6.2 In the ensuing discussion the Committee considered that:

  • the change in epidemiology was more likely to be linked to social factors or the food chain such as changes in dietary behaviour/habits, food storage and food production rather than changes in the organism based on conventional typing techniques. More information was needed on sociological information for the >60 age group.
  • the cumulative risk of repeated exposure of elderly vulnerable groups including those in hospital to low levels of listeria required consideration and also any changes in medical behaviour linked to care of the over 60 age group.
  • listeria was present in food at very low levels today compared with the 1980s and 1990s. Therefore the increase in incidence was more likely to be linked to the susceptibility of vulnerable groups rather than a change in the incidence of the organism in food.
  • it was difficult to explain the increase in listeriosis in patients with bacteraemia compared to those with CNS infection. More information was needed to understand why this patient group was vulnerable to listeriosis. However Members recognised the difficulties associated with obtaining food histories from elderly patients.
  • advice aimed at the elderly (including those with cancer and immunocompronised individuals) on how to avoid food poisoning was required. Guidance was also needed on sandwich use in hospitals.
  • an EU wide study was needed to investigate changes in listeria epidemiology.

6.3 The Chair thanked Dr McLauchlin for his comprehensive presentation. She concluded that Members had highlighted a range of issues for consideration including diagnosis, typing, case histories, social factors, changes in consumption habits, and cumulative risk. The Committee agreed to refer this issue to its ad hoc Group on Vulnerable Groups for further discussion as a priority over the summer period. The Chair also requested that the Group co-opt Members with appropriate expertise to assist with its deliberations.

Action: Secretariat/Professor Hunter

Antimicrobial treatment of poultry meat (ACM/848)
7.1 At the Chair’s invitation Mrs Mary Howell introduced paper ACM/848. She reminded Members that in 2005 the FSA briefed the Committee on a draft Commission Regulation laying down proposals for approval and conditions of use of certain antimicrobial substances to remove surface contamination from poultry carcasses. She explained that since the draft Regulation was considered by ACMSF, these substances had been assessed for safety and efficacy by EFSA. EFSA concluded that there was no safety concern for treatment of poultry carcasses with chlorine dioxide, acidified sodium chlorite, trisodium phosphate or peroxyacids under the prescribed conditions of use. She outlined the main points in the new Regulation explaining that there was a requirement to label poultry meat and preparations produced from treated carcases. She also summarised current issues under discussion including international trade/WTO, microbiological efficacy and safety evaluation data, the relationship between antimicrobial treatments and other food safety controls, toxicological assessment, labelling and consumer views. She added that the Commission had not decided how to progress the assessment of antimicrobial treatments using bacteriophages. Lastly she sought the Committee’s view on the safety assessment of four substances under their prescribed conditions of use, the approval procedure, conditions of use and official controls and procedures to assess antimicrobial treatments using bacteriophages.

7.2 Members discussed the impact of the proposed Regulation on biosecurity measures. They expressed concern that such antimicrobial treatments could be used to clean up dirty products and stressed the need for continued good farm biosecurity to be carried out to target foodborne pathogens. Some Members also highlighted a more general concern about the use of such treatments on meat that consumers would assume to be fresh, as well as concerns that consumer views on the Regulation had not been sought at an earlier stage of the proposal negotiations although it was noted that consumer input was now being considered. The Committee discussed the labelling of treated products noting that labelling only related to raw products. They acknowledged that the approval process had adopted a precautionary approach and that the revised proposal addressed previous ACMSF concerns on product safety raised in 2005. However some concerns were raised about placing all four substances in the same group and Members emphasised that there should be a strong approach to approval. Members also suggested that the Commission should be encouraged to develop a broad Regulatory Framework which should take account of existing measures to target foodborne pathogens. Some Members considered that safety issues around use of bacteriophages such as presence of host DNA, virulence factors, and selection of sub-resistant populations needed further consideration and stressed that, being mindful of jargon, consumer opinion on use of bacteriophages should be sought at an early stage.

7.3 The Chair thanked Mrs Howell for her presentation noting that previous concerns raised by the Committee had been taken on board. She highlighted the need for consumer involvement at an early stage and consideration of safety issues linked to use of bacteriophages.

Foodborne Viral Infections
8.1 At the Chair’s invitation Dr Hilton presented paper ACM/849. She reminded Members that almost 10 years ago the ACMSF published its report on foodborne viral infections which assessed the significance of viruses as agents of foodborne infection in humans. She explained that the report considered foodborne illness, sources and routes of transmission, and prevention and control measures for human foodborne viruses. She summarised the main recommendations arising out of the report and updated Members on developments since the report’s publication in 1998, including work arising from a study of Infectious Intestinal Disease in England, developments in terms of outbreaks of foodborne viral infections and research to develop methods for the detection and quantification of viruses in shellfish. She also updated Members on published guidance for businesses and industry guides.

8.2 Noting the preliminary nature of the paper, Members highlighted the need to focus on the importance of European outbreaks linked to noroviruses. The Committee acknowledged that some of the original recommendations had not been progressed due to the limited data available on the burden of disease attributed to noroviruses. However support was given to revisit this issue due to its large impact on clinical infection.

8.3 The Chair thanked Dr Hilton for presenting the report. She requested that the Committee revisit noroviruses noting that the work should focus on food transfer rather than revisiting previously identified areas in the report which had not been addressed.

Action: Secretariat

Committee sub-groups
Vulnerable Groups

9.1 Professor Hunter informed Members that the first meeting of this Group took place in April. Discussions focussed around identifying and agreeing its remit and terms of reference, and the identity of co-opted expertise. Following today’s discussion the next meeting would focus its work around listeria.

Newly emerging pathogens
9.2 Professor Hunter reported that the first meeting of this Group was scheduled to take place in July to discuss ESBLs. A paper on this issue had already been circulated for consideration in advance of the meeting.

Working group on Surveillance

9.3 Professor Humphrey informed Members that this Group met in May to consider a draft surveillance report on catering eggs and a preliminary contractor report on listeria in smoked fish. The Group also received a presentation on EU surveillance of foods and discussed surveillance contractors.

Working group on Avian influenza

9.4 At the Chair’s invitation Dr Brown presented paper ACM/850 which updated the Committee on the work of this Group to review findings from the avian influenza incident which occurred in Suffolk in February. He informed Members that the Group was briefed on research underway to address data gaps identified as a result of the outbreak. Preliminary data on the Suffolk turkey and Hungary goose isolates were discussed. Epidemiological investigations had not identified a clear route of infection associated with the Suffolk outbreak. Genome sequencing data had shown little difference between the Hungarian and Suffolk strains. The Group therefore remained unconvinced that the proposed route of infection was supported by the sequencing data. The Group concluded that although several questions and data gaps had been identified as a result of the outbreak, there was no fundamental change to the ACMSF risk assessment. The Suffolk outbreak posed a low risk to humans via the food chain.

Botulism in cattle

9.5 Professor Williams informed Members that the Group met in May and, as agreed at the March ACMSF meeting, broadened its terms of reference to include sheep and goats. The Group decided to produce an addendum to the botulism in cattle report to address consideration of botulism in sheep and goats. Members considered information from VLA, animal husbandry in relation to milk and meat production, and emphasised that sheep and goats should be considered separately. Meat from these species was considered to be subjected to similar risks to those of cattle. However significant differences in the production of milk between species were noted. The Group identified several data gaps and agreed to progress a more detailed risk assessment on ewes’ milk.

9.6 The Chair thanked Professor Williams for his update. She requested that the ad hoc Group on botulism in cattle also consider buffalo (and possibly other animals at risk of botulism and that produce milk for human consumption) as part of its deliberations.

Action: Professor Williams/Secretariat

Dates of future meetings (ACM/851)
10.1 The Chair brought to Members’ attention paper ACM/851 which listed the dates for meetings scheduled for 2007 and dates for 2008. She reminded Members that all meetings were open to members of the public.

Any other business
11.1 Dr Lucy Foster drew the Committee’s attention to papers ACM/853 and ACM/862. She requested that Members provide suggestions to points raised in paragraph 4 of paper ACM/853 to the Secretariat by correspondence. She also informed Members that the Secretariat would circulate a finalised version of paper ACM/862 (self assessment form) to the Committee for completion during the summer. Lastly she informed Members that Food Safety Week was taking place next week and that, for the first time, the event would be run by the Agency.

Action: Members

Public questions and answers

12.1 The Chair invited the members of the public present to ask any questions they might have on the work of the Committee, or to make any observations.

12.2 Dr Bernard Rowe (Member of the public) commented on the increasing trend in listeriosis in the UK. He queried the usefulness of typing methods, and asked about information on the pathogenicity of listeria types in the food chain and the identity of virulence indicators. Dr McLauchlin commented that the epidemiology of listeria had changed since the 1980’s and that it was assumed that all types of listeria in the food chain were pathogenic.

12.3 Mrs Barbara Gallani (BRC) commented on the EFSA assessment for proposed substances for the treatment of poultry carcases noting that efficacy was not a condition for approval.

12.4 Dr Barbara Lund (IFST) commented on listeria in relation to the supply of foods for hospitals and the legislative limits for listeria in food at the point of consumption. She queried what level of research and sampling for listeria was being carried out in hospitals and by food producers. Dr Hilton replied that the level of sampling at the point of food production was the responsibility of producers as part of HACCP requirements. Mr Kyriakides queried whether sandwiches were exempt from the legislation because of their short shelf life. Dr Hilton agreed to check this.

Action: Dr Hilton

14.1 Mr Alan Long (VEGA) commented on several issues relating to consumption of sandwiches in hospitals, washing of bagged salads and use of triclosan, stresses on cattle caused by washing and keshan disease.

14.2 There being no further business, the Chairman thanked Members and members of the public for attending and closed the meeting.