ACMSF Meeting minutes 21 June 2000

Minutes of the 37th ACMSF Meeting, 21 June 2000, Department of Health, London.


Chairman Professor D L Georgala

Members Mr D Clarke
Dr T Clayton
Mrs P Jefford
Professor A M Johnston
Mr D Kilsby
Ms E Lewis
Dr M J Painter
Professor S R Palmer
Dr T A Roberts
Dr N A Simmons
Professor W C S Smith
Mrs B W Thomas
Dr T Wyatt

Assessors Dr M Donaghy (SEHD)
Mr P J R Gayford (MAFF)
Professor C H McMurray (NIDARD)
Dr R Skinner (FSA)

Secretariat Dr J Hilton (Medical Secretary)
Mr C R Mylchreest (Administrative Secretary)
Mrs E A Stretton

1. Chairman's introduction

1.1 The Chairman welcomed Members to the Committee's thirty-seventh meeting, the first under the auspices of the Food Standards Agency.

1.2 He drew attention to one tabled paper ACM/482 - on the FSA's planned surveillance of retail raw chicken for Salmonella and Campylobacter.

1.3 In view of the very full agenda, the Chairman had asked the Secretariat to draw up a revised running order, placing the most important items earlier in the agenda, and identifying those items which could be carried over to the September meeting if necessary. This had been tabled.

1.4 The Chairman reminded Members of the need to declare any interests in any of the items for discussion. In relation to the agenda item dealing with Clostridium botulinum, Dr Simmons drew attention to the fact that he was a consultant and adviser to Waitrose Ltd.

2. Apologies for absence

2.1 Apologies for absence were received from one Member (Dr J V Stevens) and one Assessor (Mrs J Whinney (FSA/Wales)).

3. Minutes of the 36th meeting (ACM/MIN/36)

3.1 These were accepted as a correct record subject to the final sentence of paragraph 5.5 being replaced by the following :-

"The total number of Salmonella reports had not decreased. In the case of chickens and turkeys, this was thought to reflect increased monitoring of salmonellas generally and the associated increase in reporting of "other" Salmonella serotypes."

4. Matters arising

4.1 The Chairman reported on those matters arising from the minutes of the thirty-sixth meeting not dealt with in substantive agenda items.

4.2 In relation to paragraph 3.1 and 3.2 of ACM/MIN/36, following correspondence between the Secretariat, Members and Assessors, it had been agreed that the first sentence of paragraph 5.3 of ACM/MIN/35 should be amended to read :-

"The Committee noted that these results reflected earlier indications from the pilot study that MPTB might be present in pasteurised milk."

4.3 While on the subject of Mycobacterium paratuberculosis, the Committee noted that the topic continued to attract media and other attention, and that a number of reports had recently become available from various international sources.

4.4 The ACMSF Annual Report 1999 had been published on 3 May (paragraph 4.1 of ACM/MIN/36). Copies had been sent to Members.

4.5 It was noted that all ACMSF Members had now received invitations to attend the VTEC meeting to be held in Edinburgh in June (ACM/MIN/36 paragraph 6.1).

4.6 In relation to paragraph 7.2, the Chairman reported that an Ad Hoc Group would be set up shortly to scope the problem of inadequate risk control in manufacturing and catering. It was hoped to organise a Campylobacter workshop in the second half of 2000 after which a formal Campylobacter Working Group would be convened (paragraph 7.3).

4.7 Contacts with the Epidemiology of Foodborne Infections Group (paragraph 7.6 of ACM/MIN/36) over the integration of human and animal infectious intestinal disease data would be pursued following EFIG's next meeting, due to take place on 3 July.

5. Campylobacter

5.1 Dr Hilton introduced ACM/475, a draft report of the Microbiological Safety of Food Funders' Group (MFSSG) detailing UK publicly-funded research relating to Campylobacter. She stressed that the report gave details of publicly-funded research only and that some of the gaps identified might have been filled through the programmes of other funding bodies. The report was not designed to offer a "next step" view. It was hoped that this would emerge from the planned workshop, which would also provide an opportunity for Members to feed in information about other research developments not covered in the MFSSG report.

5.2 Members welcomed the information contained in the report. It was noted that, despite extensive research programmes, results had done little to facilitate risk analysis. Put simply, the fundamental questions were 'how common is Campylobacter infection', 'who gets it' and 'how do they get it'. No substantive progress had been made in addressing the question of seasonality. Members, whilst accepting that a large range of bodies had a legitimate interest in funding Campylobacter research, felt that it was vital that there should be one central body - in their view the FSA - responsible for taking a strategic overview of Campylobacter control, including coordinating research and identifying gaps and overlaps.

5.3 Members were hopeful that further progress could be made through the forward work programme agreed for the ACMSF in relation to Campylobacter. The next steps were a workshop, followed by the setting up of a formal Working Group.

6. Ready-to-eat (RTE) fruit and vegetables

6.1 In the context of elaborating the Committee's future work programme, Members had requested a briefing paper on the microbiological status of ready-to-eat (RTE) fruit and vegetables, to help them decide the need for further ACMSF work in this area. Dr Mitchell of the Public Health Laboratory Service, assisted by Mr Gillespie, presented paper ACM/476.

6.2 In a wide ranging discussion, a number of points were made. Amongst these, it was noted that a significant proportion of outbreaks had been attributed to poor hygiene practice. This had been a recurrent theme over many years despite legislation and heavy resource expenditure on training. The question of why there had been no improvement needed to be addressed. It was noted that, in identifying the causative organisms associated with IID outbreaks, SRSVs posed particular problems because of the difficulties in routine detection and confirmation. Although these were reported as accounting for 20% of outbreaks, no causative organism had been identified in over 40% of outbreaks, and SRSVs could feature prominently in these. Comparative surveillance of both organic and non-organic RTE produce was needed if meaningful advice was to be given to consumers on the microbiological status of organic produce.

6.3 It was noted that a huge amount of information on RTE produce was potentially available from the food industry although, in practice, there would be considerations of commercial confidentiality, methodology, how representative were the results, etc. It was important in planning surveillance of ready-to-eat produce to be aware that the generic term RTE could be used to describe a very wide range of produce from that, on the one hand, which might have been minimally processed (eg home-prepared vegetables) to that which had been subject to more sophisticated processing (eg. commercially-prepared, ready washed salads). Accurately defining what was meant by RTE was therefore essential.

6.4 Good progress was being made by Departments and UK Water Industry Research Ltd on pathogen survival in sewage sludge used in agriculture. Guidelines for the application of sewage sludge to grassland and forage crops were now contained in the Safe Sludge Matrix. Work on animal manures was proceeding, but about a year behind the sludge programme.

6.5 The Chairman thanked Dr Mitchell and Mr Gillespie for their paper and presentation. The Committee concluded that, although there had been some outbreaks from this type of produce, there was no cause for serious concern over public health in this connection. The Chairman invited the PHLS to keep the matter under review and to provide the Committee with a progress report, 9 months or so hence, of international developments. At that time, the Committee would also find it useful to see the results of the PHLS's more detailed analysis of the England and Wales outbreak data.

7. Salmonella in Eggs Working Group

7.1 Dr Painter introduced ACM/478 comprising the latest, partial draft report of the Salmonella in Eggs Working Group. He explained that, the Working Group had first met in September 1998 and had begun work in earnest in January 1999. To date there had been nine meetings in all. It had originally been hoped that a final draft would have been ready for presentation to the Committee at its 37th meeting but this had not proved possible. Further drafting sessions were planned for July, with a final meeting of the Working Group scheduled for August. Although significant work therefore remained to be done, the draft was presented with a view to enabling Members to see the broad thrust and direction of the report, and to identify any areas of significant omission or disagreement. Members comments, which would be reflected in the drafting process, were invited. It was hoped that a final draft would be available for consideration by the full Committee at its meeting in September 2000.

7.2 Dr Painter then gave Members a detailed, Chapter-by-Chapter summary of the draft. For their part, Members were able to offer a number of comments about the content and structure of the draft which Dr Painter undertook to reflect in subsequent drafting.

8. Clostridium botulinum

8.1 Dr Cook (FSA) introduced ACM/479, a report commissioned by the Department of Health following concerns about several products where there might be potential for growth and toxin production by Clostridium botulinum. The purpose of bringing the report to the Committee was to elicit Members' views on the findings, on any other products of concern, and in particular on whether the FSA should consider commissioning research and/or surveillance in this area.

8.2 To put the paper in context, the Chairman reminded Members that cases of botulism were extremely rare in the UK but botulinum toxin was deadly. The organism was naturally present in soil and in the marine environment. It grew in the absence of air, and the spores of some C. botulinum could be very heat resistant. Consumer options for self-protection were limited. It was thus extremely important that food manufacturers took all necessary measures to eliminate any risk of botulism from their products.

8.3 In discussion of the paper, the importance was stressed of doing nothing which would detract from the already very clear guidance and rules applying to commercial food manufacturers. It was recognised, however, that produce (including vegetables, herbs and spices) preserved in oil, and recipes for production of these products in the domestic setting, gave grounds for particular concern. Some concern was also expressed about the adequacy of powers available to local authority enforcement staff in requiring manufacturers to comply with the regulations. The example was quoted of the ACMSF's recommendations (in its Report on Vacuum Packaging and Associated Processes) to prevent growth and toxin production by psychrotrophic C. botulinum in prepared chilled foods with an assigned shelf-life of more than 10 days. The Committee's recommendation had been that, in addition to chill temperature, there should be heat treatment of 90 C for 10 minutes (or equivalent), a pH of 5 or less throughout the food, a minimum salt level of 3.5%, an aw of 0.97 or less, or a combination of heat and preservative factors which could be shown consistently to prevent growth and toxin production by psychrotrophic C. botulinum. It was in relation to this latter option that enforcers had encountered difficulties in getting manufacturers to adopt measures which they (the local authorities) regarded as necessary.

8.4 After further discussion the Chairman invited Dr Cook, in consultation with the Institute of Food Research, Norwich (IFR - the authors of ACM/479) and the Campden and Chorleywood Food Research Association (CCFRA - under whose auspices the industry code of practice for the manufacture of vacuum and modified atmosphere packaged chilled foods was drawn up), to consider whether the products covered in ACM/479, and any others that CCFRA might be aware of, necessitated a review by the ACMSF of the advice given in its Report on Vacuum Packaging. Consideration should also be given to the need to amend the industry Code of Practice.

8.5 As regards enforcement, it was suggested that Dr Cook should seek a LACOTS view of areas of difficulty for enforcement staff and should also consider with CCFRA and IFR the case for challenge testing.

8.6 The Chairman asked Dr Cook to prepare a paper for the ACMSF addressing these various issues once his consultations were complete. On the basis of that paper, the Committee would take a view on the need for them to offer advice to the FSA on any aspects covered.

9. Briefing the FSA Board, and review of risk assessment (ACM/474)

9.1 The Chairman gave an oral report on the briefing and discussion session held for the Food Standards Agency Board on 24 May 2000. He had attended, along with Professor Frank Woods, Chairman on the Committee on Toxicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment (COT), and Professor Janet Bainbridge, Chairman of the Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes (ACNFP). Each of the chairmen had described the work of their respective committees and the different sorts of problems facing each of them. During the course of the briefing and discussion session, it became clear that the FSA Board, which was drawn from a wide variety of backgrounds, was very much looking to the scientific advisory committees for the specialist advice it would need and was greatly appreciative of the contribution the committees had already made. The independence of the committees was recognised, as was the increasingly important contribution which the committees were likely to make to risk communication.

9.2 The Chairman also gave an oral report on the group set up at the invitation of the Prime Minister under the Chairmanship of the Government's Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir Robert May, to review the principles and procedures of risk assessment used by the Government's scientific committees dealing with food safety. Members had been provided with a background note (ACM/474) setting the scene. The May Group recognised that there were some common elements which could lend themselves to a common approach to risk analysis among all the scientific advisory committees. It was equally acknowledged that risk analysis often posed different problems for different committees and might consequently need to be approached in different ways by different committees..

9.3 The May Review was being conducted against a very tight timetable. A meeting with advisory committee chairman (which Professor Georgala had been unable to attend through illness) had taken place on 5 June. No further meetings were planned but it was likely that a draft of Sir Robert's report would be circulated before it was finalised for submission to the Prime Minister.

10. Surveillance Working Group

10.1 Members considered ACM/481, a paper prepared at the request of the Chairman proposing the creation of a "standing" ACMSF Working Group to offer advice in connection with Government-funded microbiological food surveillance, and surveillance of animal and human infection. Members saw this as a worthwhile initiative and supported the establishment of the Group. The Chairman undertook to report back on membership having taken further soundings among ACMSF members.

11. FSA raw chicken survey

11.1 Dr Cook (FSA) introduced ACM/482. Members welcomed the opportunity to comment on proposals at this very early planning stage and a number of preliminary suggestions were offered in relation to the list of selected factors for consideration which formed part of the paper.

11.2 The Chairman suggested that this should be the first matter for consideration by the new standing Surveillance Working Group. He undertook to ensure that the Group was set up quickly and that arrangements were then made for Dr Cook to receive early comments on ACM/482.

12. Papers on Listeria outbreaks and Mycobacterium bovis

12.1 In view of time constraints, consideration of the papers on Listeria outbreaks (ACM/477) and M. bovis (ACM/480) was deferred until the Committee's September meeting.

13. Any other business

13.1 Mr Gayford drew attention to the review being carried out by MAFF of veterinary surveillance in England and Wales. He regarded it as extremely important that ACMSF members commented, either collectively or individually, as the review would form the basis for veterinary surveillance in the coming years. The Chairman reminded Members that they had all received copies of the review document. The closing date for comments was 30 June. An ACMSF reply had been drafted and would be sent. If Members had additional comments, they should send them no later than 27 June to the Administrative Secretary for inclusion in the reply.

13.2 In relation to the Listeria paper carried over to the next meeting, a request was made for the paper to include as much information as possible on the circumstances of the US and French outbreaks so that Members could decide whether the errors made raised new issues which the Committee might need to address. It was acknowledged that, thus far, very little hard information had become available.

13.3 The Secretariat was asked to investigate the possibility of setting up an "electronic chat room" facility which could be used, where appropriate, to obtain Members' advice on particular issues.

14. Meetings for remainder of 2000

14.1 The Chairman noted that the Committee was scheduled to meet on 19 September and 5 December. It was possible (though not yet decided) that the former should be the Committee's first open meeting. Further information would be supplied to Members in due course.