ACMSF minutes: 1 December 2004

The 54th meeting of the Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Food will be held at 10.30 am on Wednesday 1 December 2004 in Trinity House, Trinity Square, Tower Hill, London EC1. This meeting is open to members of the public.

Present

Chairman:
Professor B Reilly

Members:
Mr J Bassett
Dr D Brown
Ms S Davies
Professor M Gasson
Professor T Humphrey
Professor P Hunter
Mr A Kyriakides
Ms E Lewis
Mr P McMullin
Mr P Mepham
Professor S O'Brien
Mr B Peirce
Mr D Piccaver
Professor L Piddock
Dr Q Sandifer
Professor P Williams

Assessors:
Mr P Gayford (Defra)
Dr J Hilton (FSA)
Dr S Neill (DARDNI)

Secretariat:
Dr L Foster (Administrative Secretary)
Dr P Cook (Scientific Secretary)
Dr C Chan
Mr B Martin
Mrs M Obeng
Mrs E Stretton
Miss C Wilkes

Others:
Mr S Pugh: agenda item 7
Dr K Callaghan: agenda item 8
Members of the public - see Annex I

1. Chairman's introduction

1.1 The Chairman welcomed ACMSF Members and members of the public to the 54th meeting of the Committee.

1.2 The Chairman also welcomed Mr Stephen Pugh and Dr Kathryn Callaghan (both from the Food Standards Agency) who would be presenting agenda items 7 and 8 respectively.

1.3 The Chairman asked Members to identify any items for discussion under any other business at the end of the meeting. Ms Davies indicated that she wished to comment on information paper ACM/726.

2 Apologies for absence

2.1 Apologies for absence were received from Dr K Hadley and Dr L Doherty (NIDHSSPS; Departmental Assessor).

3 Declarations of interests

3.1 The Chairman reminded the Committee of the need to declare any conflicts of interests relating to items on the agenda. In connection with agenda item 7, Professor Humphrey reported that he had acted as a consultant to the British Egg Industry Council and that he had also been in receipt of research grants. Mr Kyriakides reported, in connection with agenda items 7 and 8, that Sainsbury's sold eggs and egg-related products, chilled food and vacuum-packaged products. Similarly, Mr Bassett reported that Unilever also produced vacuum-packaged and chilled ready to eat foods (agenda item 8). David Piccaver added that as a producer, he had an interest in vacuum-packaged foods (agenda item 8). Mr McMullin recorded an interest relating to agenda item 7 as his veterinary practice provided advice to egg producers.

4 Minutes of the 53rd meeting (ACM/MIN/53)

4.1 Members approved ACM/MIN/53 as a correct record of the previous meeting subject to two minor amendments. Firstly, to change the word industry to academia in the second sentence of the third bullet point of 8.3. Secondly, to correct the paragraph numbering. The Secretariat was asked to arrange for these final minutes to be posted on the Committee's website.
Action : Secretariat

5 Matters arising

5.1 The Chairman drew attention to the Secretariat information paper ACM/710 detailing matters arising from previous meetings. In relation to paper ACM/MIN/53 paragraph 9.4, the Chairman requested that this item was marked to bring forward and that the Committee was kept up to date with the Agency's consideration of current doner kebab handling practices with a view to standardising Local Authority guidance.
Action : Secretariat

5.2 There were no other matters arising identified by members of the Committee.

6 Working Group on Campylobacter

6.1 The Chairman introduced paper ACM/712, which tabulated the draft ACMSF response to comments received in response the Committee's public consultation on the draft Second Report on Campylobacter. He informed Members that the Report had received a favourable response. The Working Group had agreed a small number of minor amendments to the text of the Report. These amendments were incorporated into paper ACM/711. The most significant amendment was the inclusion of a supplementary annex (Annex F), which highlighted the progress made to date against the recommendations in the Report. The Chairman invited Members to adopt the revised Report and to agree that permission could be sought from the FSA Chairman to publish the document. Members were also invited to agree to the publication of the ACMSF response to the public consultation (paper reference ACM/712) on the Agency's website.

6.2 Members agreed to move the footnote on page 28 of the consultation response (paper ACM/712) into the main Report (paper ACM/711) at the end of paragraph 8.12, and agreed that, subject to this amendment, the Report should be sent to the FSA Chairman and approval for publication sought.

6.3 Members discussed the format of the response document (paper ACM/712). Dr Hilton confirmed that in the next few years the FSA was not intending to commission work based on typing systems other than MLST (page 28). Mr Kyriakides confirmed that the 86 deaths attributable to Campylobacter were an estimated figure, based on HPA work, and thus the wording of the Report was correct (page 8).

6.4 Members noted that there were several comments in the ACMSF response that incorporated information from the FSA. The Secretariat agreed to draft an introduction to the document for circulation to Members for clearance. This was designed specifically to explain that, as part of the outcome of the consultation process, the Food Standards Agency had provided some information for inclusion in the responses table, and that this information had been discussed by the ACMSF Working group on Campylobacter.
Action : Secretariat

7 Egg advice (ACM/713)

7.1 At the Chairman's invitation Mr Pugh (FSA) introduced paper ACM/713 which examined the advice given to caterers and consumers on the consumption of eggs.

7.2 Mr Pugh explained that the FSA was seeking comments from the ACMSF on the current advice on egg handling and promotion in the light of recent survey and research findings, and on whether the appropriate groups have been identified as targets for the advice. He informed the Committee that, due to changes in practices on farms as a result of measures to control Salmonella in poultry, the level of Salmonella in UK-produced eggs had been greatly reduced. Therefore fewer contaminated eggs were on retail sale. He added that the recent outbreaks of Salmonella in eggs were mostly associated with non-UK eggs which accounted for about 10% of the egg market and were mainly used in the catering trade.

7.3 Members discussed how vulnerable groups such as immuno-compromised patients were defined, and the relationship between contamination rates and human illness. Not all immuno-compromised patients were at risk from all infections. The relative risk of illness in patients with various immunological conditions following exposure to infectious agents such as Salmonella was not known. Professor Hunter agreed to carry out a literature search to try to identify which specific immunological conditions were associated with an increased risk of infection with Salmonella.
Action : Professor Hunter

7.4 In response to a Committee request for information on the FSA's handling of Salmonella in non-UK eggs, Dr Hilton informed Members that until recently, the FSA and the Egg Marketing Inspectorate had believed that virtually all non-UK eggs were used in catering. However, following a recent investigation by Egg Marketing Inspectorate into the destination of non-UK eggs entering the UK it appeared that, although the majority of these eggs entered the catering trade, some non-UK eggs were also on retail sale. The Health Protection Agency and FSA were currently compiling a dossier of evidence associated with problems relating to outbreaks of Salmonella associated with Spanish eggs for submission to the Standing Committee on Food Chain and Animal Health in December. In addition, the Spanish Government was currently implementing a programme to control Salmonella in eggs. The FSA and HPA were continuing to monitor the incidence of Salmonella outbreaks due to Spanish eggs

7.5 In the ensuing discussion of the paper, a number of points were made:

  • Members expressed concern that it was not possible to trace the origin of all eggs that were imported into the UK. The Committee requested to see a copy of the dossier when it was submitted to the Standing Committee on Food Chain and Animal Health.
    Action : Secretariat
  • Members cautioned that any changes to existing well established advice and public health messages would need to be communicated carefully, particularly to the catering industry where rapid turnover of staff, language barriers and lack of training could inhibit penetration of key messages.
  • Existing information on traceability of eggs should be reviewed prior to updating advice. Any advice should recognise improvements made by the egg industry, which has resulted in significantly reduced levels of Salmonella in UK-produced eggs since 1995/6.
  • Members agreed that the advice outlined in Annex A generally remained appropriate, although advice relating to runny eggs should be reviewed as (in light of recent surveillance data) it was unlikely that Salmonella would occur inside UK-produced eggs. However cross-contamination from handling of eggshells could still occur. In addition, current egg advice could benefit from including more explicit information on non-UK eggs.
  • Use of egg stamping to identify country of origin and provenance should be clearly legible.

    7.6 The Chairman thanked Mr Pugh for his presentation. He commented that the Committee had expressed a clear view that existing advice should be re-assessed as circumstances had changed since the original advice was issued. He noted the significant fall in Salmonella in UK eggs, adding that information on levels of Salmonella attributable to non-UK eggs was incomplete. In addition, confirmation was needed that egg stamping was being used correctly and that consumers were aware of the FSA�s egg advice. The Chairman requested that the FSA provide further briefing on the role and problems associated with non-UK eggs for discussion at the March 2005 meeting.
    Action : Mr Pugh

    8 FSA Consultation on guidelines for vacuum-packaged and modified atmosphere packaged foods (ACM/714)

    8.1 At the Chairman's invitation, Dr Callaghan (FSA) introduced paper ACM/714.

    8.2 Dr Callaghan explained that the paper outlined the issues raised in response to the Agency�s consultation on FSA Guidance on the safety and shelf life of vacuum and modified atmosphere packed chilled foods with respect to psychrotrophic Clostridium botulinum. It summarised the Guidance and advice from the industry Code of Practice for the Manufacture of Vacuum and Modified Atmosphere Packaged Chilled Foods (1996) and advice from the ACMSF in its Report on Vacuum Packaging and Associated Processes (1992), and subsequent advice on shelf-life (1995). Comments received in response to the consultation exercise were also summarised. The paper specifically examined industry concerns around the proposed shelf-life limitation of 5 days (based on ACMSF advice, 1995) for these chilled (10C and below) products stored above 5C where failure to support the growth of C. botulinum had not been established, and outlined options for publication of the Guidance.

    8.3 Among the points made in the discussion of the paper were that:

  • Retailers were supportive of the original ACMSF advice based on a shelf life limitation of 10 days, even though this advice was more restrictive than that in some other EU countries. However, a shelf life of 5 days introduced severe practical problems. If the advice stood, this shelf life would apply to many products, since storage at temperatures below 5C could not be guaranteed in the domestic environment.
  • Modelling data supporting the 5-day proposal was based on broth studies with a high loading of C. botulinum, and thus was not representative of what was likely to occur in practice. Recent studies carried out by the retail sector did not confirm these models. A more detailed review of the evidence underpinning the 5-day shelf-life limitation was required. The impact of new technology on food processing also required consideration.
  • Many products with an associated risk of C. botulinum had a shelf life longer than 5 days. Members were not aware of any outbreaks of C. botulinum in properly chilled foods. Thus controls in the proposed Guidance appeared disproportionate and to outweigh risk.

    8.4 The Chairman thanked Dr Callaghan for her presentation. In summing up he suggested that the Committee needed to examine recent scientific evidence prior to making a judgement on the proposed Guidance. He proposed that the FSA commission an independent review of the current scientific evidence, with a view to presenting the information to the ACMSF for further consideration in September 2005. He also requested that ACMSF Members had sight of the scope of the review prior to the work being commissioned.
    Action: Dr Callaghan/Secretariat

    9 Ad hoc Group on botulism in cattle

    9.1 The Chairman informed Members that two meetings of this Group had taken place since the ACMSF last met (September and November). The Group heard evidence from the Veterinary Laboratories Agency (VLA) on the risks and uncertainties associated with botulism in cattle and also on the management of botulism outbreaks in these animals. The VLA and the Health Protection Agency presented information on the molecular biology and structure of Clostridium botulinum toxins and toxin types. The mechanism of transfer of the toxin into milk was also considered. In addition the Group received information on diagnostic testing for
    C. botulinum and its toxins in animals and animal products. Further evidence on the management of outbreaks of botulism in animals was provided by the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development in Northern Ireland. A further meeting of the Group was scheduled for February 2005. In the intervening period, a Report would be drafted by Members on the Group's deliberations. It was anticipated that the Group would present its findings at the March 2005 ACMSF meeting.

    10. Ad hoc Group on infant botulism (ACM/715)

    10.1 At the Chairman's invitation, Professor O'Brien presented paper ACM/715, an interim report on the work of the Group.

    10.2 Professor O'Brien explained that this interim report outlined work undertaken to date by the Group to consider the potential human health risk associated with the consumption of chilled or frozen baby foods, particularly in relation to C. botulinum and infant botulism. The Group had met on five occasions and was now satisfied that it had met with sufficient individuals and reviewed sufficient documentary evidence to allow it to inform development of ACMSF advice to the FSA. In addition a Sub-Group had been convened to carry out a semi-quantitative risk profile of C. botulinum in infant foods. Two or three experts had been identified to peer-review the risk profile work. The Group was currently drafting a full report of the outcome of its deliberations. This Report would be submitted to the ACMSF for consideration at the March 2005 meeting, pending the outcome of the peer-review of the risk profile element of the work.

    11. Committee sub-groups

    Imported Foods

    11.1 At the Chairman's invitation, Mr Mepham informed Members that a meeting of this ad hoc Group took place on 16 September, to take forward the work areas highlighted for investigation at the December 2003 ACMSF meeting, including a more focussed review of the risks associated with imported food. Products of animal origin that were legally produced and imported were excluded from the review on the basis that sufficient control measures were already in place.

    11.2 Current work focussed on food not of animal origin. Evidence to be reviewed included levels of foodborne illness associated with imported foods, increase in international trade, changes in food technology, EU expansion and increasing development of traceability. At the FSA's request, the Group also intended to consider a review of the microbiological risks associated with 'bush' meat currently being undertaken by the Agency. The next meeting of the Group was scheduled to take place on 17 January 2005.

    Newly-emerging pathogens

    11.3 At the Chairman's invitation, Professor Hunter informed the Committee that this Group did not meet on a regular basis as it operated via internet-based discussion (message board). He confirmed that the message board was now set up, and that most Members had registered. A paper considering low temperature washing of laundry and risk of infectious symptoms had been posted on the message board. Mr Gayford requested that a mechanism be put in place to alert Members to discussion items on the message board.
    Action : Secretariat

    11.4 The Chairman thanked all the Chairs of the Sub Groups for their contributions.

    12. Annual Report 2004 (ACM/716)

    12.1 The Chairman informed the Committee that paper ACM/716 comprised the first draft of the Committee's Annual Report for calendar year 2004. The current document covered work from January to September 2004 only. As in previous years, as soon as possible after the 1 December meeting, the Secretariat would produce a second draft, reflecting the outcome of the December meeting, plus any comments on the initial draft. The revised draft would be circulated by post to Members for clearance in correspondence. An agreed final draft would then be submitted to the Chairman of the FSA requesting publication of the document.

    12.2 Mr McMullin commented that some of the tables in the Annexes were incomplete. The Chairman confirmed that these would be updated following the December ACMSF meeting. Professor Humphreys suggested that the forward look section should include a discussion on the funding of food safety research.
    Action : Secretariat

    12.3 The Chairman requested that Members notify the Secretariat of any changes required to Annex I and II of the Report as soon as possible.
    Action : Members

    13. Dates of future meetings (ACM/717)

    13.1 The Chairman brought to Members' attention paper ACM/717 which listed the dates for ACMSF meetings in 2005.

    14. Any other business

    14.1 Ms Davies asked whether ACMSF had discussed the infant formula guidance outlined in information paper ACM/726 and asked how the FSA was dealing with the issues raised. Dr Cook confirmed that a WHO/FAO workshop took place in February 2004, and a report relating to that meeting had been circulated as an earlier information paper to the Committee. FSA was discussing with DH advice on the making up of bottles and was considering revision of its own guidance on healthy eating for infants. The Chairman suggested that it would be useful for Members to have a note outlining current FSA action on this.
    Action: Dr Cook

    14.2 Professor Piddock queried the effect of the Foot and Mouth Disease outbreak on Salmonella figures (paper ACM/719). Dr Hilton and Professor O'Brien confirmed that there was no evidence to link the Foot and Mouth Disease outbreak with a decrease in Salmonella figures. Mr Gayford agreed to provide Salmonella figures to the Committee by correspondence.
    Action : Mr Gayford

    15. Public questions and answers

    15.1 The Chairman 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.

    15.2 Mr Tom Miller (consultant in food regulatory affairs) commented that he supported the Committee's conclusions on both the eggs and vacuum-packing guidance agenda items. He informed the Committee that he had chaired the industry group involved in the production of the industry code on vacuum packing. He confirmed that the group had been asked to produce a simplified version but had considered this inappropriate because of the severity of the potential risk. He noted that there was no reference made in the code to HACCP or caterers in the proposed Guidance (HACCP was a key feature of the industry guide). He added that some parts of the document would not be readily understood by lay audiences. With regard to egg advice, he suggested that information on reducing cross-contamination from shell eggs, such as advice on breaking out large numbers of eggs safety, could be incorporated into the FSA's Safer Food Better Business Guidance.

    15.3 Dr Barbara Lund commented that it was difficult to provide advice on use of eggs to caterers when the flow of imported eggs into the UK was unregulated. She suggested that the FSA advice to consumers should include information on identification of Lion grade and imported eggs. With regard to the vacuum packing Guidance, Dr Lund remarked that the Guidance assumed that vacuum-packed products would be heat treated in pack, and queried whether Bacillus cereus would be controlled by heat treatment processing.

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

    ANNEX I

    LIST OF MEMBERS OF THE PUBLIC ATTENDING THE ACMSF'S 54th MEETING

    June Bayles - Alcontrol Laboratories
    Roy Betts - CCFRA
    Estelle Brennan - Lyons Seafoods
    Rachel Buckley - Adams Pork Products Ltd
    Marion Castle - FSA
    Kevin Coles - British Egg Information Service
    Kaarin Goodburn - Chilled Food Association
    Barbara Lund - Institute of Food Science & Technology
    Rachel Maidment
    David McCleery - Safe Foods
    Tom Miller - Food Regulatory Affairs Consulting Ltd
    Bob Mitchell - Health Protection Agency
    Gemma Mulholland - Defra
    Keiren Power - FSA
    Peter Purves - UNIQ Group Technical Services
    Daniel Smith - JS Bailey Ltd
    Kate Trollope - EU Food Law
    Caroline Welfare - Lyons Seafoods
    Robert Westhead - FSA
    Michael Wood - Norpath Laboratories