Leaders of the European Union are looking at changing regulations around unpasteurized juices and Listeria monocytogenes in sprouted seeds.

The draft legislation states that because the European Committee for Standardization and the International Organization for Standardization revised a number of reference methods and a protocol to verify compliance with microbiological criteria, regulation (EC) No 2073/2005 also needs to be updated.

Two parts of the ISO 16140 series were published in 2016 with four more still to come. Commission Regulation (EC) No 2073/2005 sets the microbiological criteria for certain microorganisms and rules to be complied with by food business operators.

This regulation sets criteria for Listeria monocytogenes in ready-to-eat foods that are unable to support growth of the pathogen, except foods for infants and special medical purposes.

Based on an opinion of the European Food Safety Authority in late 2011, sprouted seeds do support growth of Listeria monocytogenes and therefore should be covered by the relevant criteria. The European Commission requested a risk assessment of seeds and sprouted seeds intended for human consumption following outbreaks in Germany and France in spring and summer 2011.

The European Sprouted Seeds Association (ESSA) backed the potential revision. The organization, which represents European producers of sprouts, welcomed the amendment that it has said would provide EU consumers with better protection against Listeria monocytogenes.

“ESSA members are committed to producing sprouts fulfilling the European requirements that are perceived by the industry as the minimum requirements to ensure consumers’ protection against microbiological risks…” the association said in comments on the draft legislation.

Regulation (EC) No 2073/2005 also sets food safety criteria for Salmonella and a process hygiene level for E. coli in unpasteurized fruit and vegetable juices that are ready-to-eat (RTE). Food safety criteria are applicable to products placed on the market while process hygiene criteria are only relevant during the production process.

“Given that alternative processes to pasteurization exist, which achieve a similar bactericidal effect, the food safety criterion for Salmonella and a process hygiene criterion for E. coli for unpasteurized fruit and vegetable juices (RTE) should not apply to fruit and vegetable juices (RTE) that have been subject to bactericidal process with a similar effect to pasteurization on E. coli and Salmonella,” according to the draft regulation.

Member States showed support to the draft regulation during a meeting of the Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed (PAFF). The group includes representatives of all Member States and is led by a European Commission representative.

A major change involved removing ISO 16140-6 from the proposal as the standard is not yet published.

“Nevertheless the intention to introduce ISO 16140-6 in article 5 of Regulation (EC) No 2073/2005 remains, as it would enable e.g. the use of molecular typing methods (such as whole genome sequencing) as alternative methods to Salmonella serotyping,” said the committee.

The draft regulation said current alternative methods would be allowed until the end of 2021 to give sufficient time to food business companies to adapt.

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