The European Commission has published long-awaited plans to update the rules around Listeria monocytogenes in ready-to-eat (RTE) foods.

The draft regulation removes a section about the absence of Listeria in 25-grams before food has left the immediate control of the food business operator who has produced it.

It now states that Listeria monocytogenes not detected in 25-grams should apply to all situations where foods are placed on the market during their shelf-life and for which the producing food business has not been able to demonstrate, to the satisfaction of the relevant authority, that the level of Listeria will not exceed the limit of 100 colony forming units per gram (CFU/g) throughout their shelf-life.

The new rules would apply to RTE foods, other than those intended for infants and special medical purposes, that are able to support the growth of Listeria monocytogenes.

Infants and consumers with weakened immune systems are highly susceptible to Listeria monocytogenes and should not be exposed to food containing the pathogen at any concentration.

Comment period
To allow food businesses time to adapt their practices and procedures to the new requirement, the earliest the regulation will become applicable is January 2026. Comments on the proposals are open until May 8, 2024.

In a February meeting of the Biological Safety of the Food Chain section of the Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed, the EU Commission presented the plan to amend Annex I to Regulation 2073/2005, regarding the stage of the food chain where the entry 1.2 applies. Despite some requests for clarification, all member states that took the floor, expressed their support to the initiative, except one.

The Chilled Food Association has been preparing for the revision of the legislation for some time and had been concerned that the 100 cfu/g upper limit might be replaced by a zero tolerance or not detected in 25-gram or there would be requirements to set shelf life by challenge testing.

The Chilled Food Association established the Industry Listeria Group in 2021. Members include the British Retail Consortium, British Meat Processors Association, Provision Trade Federation, Fresh Produce Consortium, and European Smoked Salmon Association. 

In Europe, the notification rate for listeriosis went up in 2022. One explanation for the rising trend is the increase in the elderly population, who are at higher risk of severe disease. 

Thirty countries reported 2,770 confirmed listeriosis cases, which was the highest annual total since the start of EU-level surveillance. Germany, France, and Spain had the most cases with 548, 451, and 437, respectively.

Listeria monocytogenes was identified as the causative agent in 35 foodborne outbreaks that affected 296 people, with 242 hospitalized cases and 28 deaths. This was the highest since the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) started collecting data.

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