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Canada Fine Tunes Listeria Policy

The first changes in Canada’s policy on Listeria monocytogenes in ready-to-eat meats since 2004 were released to the public for comment Tuesday.

The goal of the new policies is to protect consumers with appropriate intervention resulting from early warning.

The changes are also the first since the 2008 Listeria outbreak caused by ready-to-eat meats that were produced by Maple Leaf Foods in Toronto that killed 22 mostly elderly Canadians.

Health Canada said the new policy differs from the 2004 document in the following ways:

•    New end-product compliance criteria have been developed. These are in line with the International Codex Alimentarius Commission standards (CAC, 2009a).

•    The definitions of ready-to-eat foods in which growth of Listeria monocytogenes can or cannot occur have been modified and/or developed and the list of food products implicated in listeriosis outbreaks has been updated.

•    The compliance action decision tree, including environmental testing for Listeria spp. and end product testing for Listeria monocytogenes, has been modified to include more details related to sampling.

•    It now states that an environmental monitoring program should be included in all plants used in the production of ready-to-eat foods, as defined in this policy.

•    It lists and encourages the use of post-process lethality treatments and/or Listeria monocytogenes growth inhibitors.

•    There is an increased focus on outreach with the federal/provincial/territorial community to increase awareness of the risks of foodborne listeriosis and to provide guidance on how to reduce the risks of acquiring listeriosis to personnel in institutions where high-risk people may be exposed.
   
Canada’s listeria policy for ready-to-eat foods was developed using a health risk assessment approach.  In its statement, Health Canada said its approach is based on inspection, environmental sampling, and end products testing to achieve control of ready-to-eat food.

Health Canada says its focus is given to environmental control, especially in post-processing areas. The new policy revises and replaces the Policy on Listeria monocytogenes in ready-to-eat foods dated October 4, 2004.
 
In this policy, ready-to-eat foods have been classified into two categories, based upon health risk. Category 1 contains products in which the growth of Listeria monocytogenes can occur. These should receive the highest priority for industry control, as well as regulatory inspection and compliance activities. The presence of Listeria monocytogenes in these Category 1 ready-to-eat foods will likely trigger a Health Risk 1 concern.

Category 2 contains two subgroups: 2A) ready-to-eat food products in which limited growth of Listeria monocytogenes to levels not greater than 100 CFU/g can occur before the end of the stated shelf-life; and 2B) ready-to-eat food products in which the growth of Listeria monocytogenes cannot occur throughout the expected shelf life of that food. These products should receive a lower priority with regards to industry control, as well as regulatory inspection and compliance action.

This revised policy should lead to an enhancement of the control of Listeria spp. in the food processing environment, permit earlier identification of any potential persistent contamination of the plant environment, and provide an increased ability to identify and mitigate against Listeria monocytogenes contamination of finished product. These actions will provide an early warning and permit the appropriate interventions to protect consumers.

Comments are being accepted on the new draft policy until May 3, 2010.   Those interested in participating are asked to submit your comments via email at bmh_bdm@hc-sc.gc.ca or by mail to:

Health Canada

Bureau of Microbial Hazards

Sir F. G. Banting
Research Centre

Postal Locator 2204E
Tunney’s Pasture

Ottawa, Ontario 
K1A 0L2

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