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Decontamination of carcasses

Decontamination of carcasses

Decontamination treatments involve applying a chemical substance to animal carcasses during the slaughter process to reduce contamination by microbes such as salmonella or campylobacter. Under EU rules, all food manufacturers need to follow good farm to fork hygiene practices to ensure pathogenic microbes are not present in foods of animal origin. Besides using water to clean carcasses, decontamination treatments are not allowed to substitute good hygiene practices and can only be considered if a substance is shown to be safe and effective.

EU framework

EC Regulation No 853/2004 allows decontamination treatments to be considered as a supplement to good hygiene practices. No decontamination treatments are currently authorised in the EU but the practice is authorised in a number of other countries worldwide. In the EU, risk managers need to ensure any such substance is first shown to be safe and effective at significantly reducing microbial contamination before it can be approved. EU authorities also need to remain vigilant to the possibility of microorganisms developing resistance to such substances as a result of their use.  

EFSA’s role and activities

EFSA provides scientific advice to EU risk managers on issues concerning decontamination treatments. The Commission has asked EFSA to provide scientific opinions on the safety and effectiveness of a number of substances, particularly those intended for use on poultry carcasses. The European Commission and EU Member States must decide whether or not to authorise the use of such practices in the EU.

In 2006 EFSA’s AFC and BIOHAZ Panels issued technical guidance for companies setting out the data required to demonstrate a decontamination treatment is safe and effective. The guidance applies to treatments for carcasses of any type of animal. The BIOHAZ Panel also issued an opinion in 2006 on the efficacy of lactic acid for poultry carcass decontamination. These papers reiterated previous advice from the Scientific Committee on Veterinary Measures relating to Public Health that antimicrobial treatments should only be considered as a supplementary way to reduce the microbial load of carcasses as part of a fully integrated control programme applied throughout the entire food chain.

EFSA has examined several substances used elsewhere in the world to decontaminate poultry carcasses, as requested by the European Commission. This work has focused on four substances - chlorine dioxide, acidified sodium chlorite, trisodium phosphate and peroxyacids. An AFC Panel opinion in 2005 concluded that these substances would not pose a safety concern within the proposed conditions of use. However, EFSA’s BIOHAZ Panel was asked to examine information on the efficacy of peroxyacids - the only type of substance whose efficacy has been assessed – and the BIOHAZ Panel opinion was unable to conclude on whether this substance effectively killed or reduced pathogenic bacteria on poultry carcasses, due to inadequate data.

A BIOHAZ Panel opinion   in 2008 examined the possible development of antimicrobial resistance linked to the same four substances used to decontaminate poultry carcasses. EFSA’s BIOHAZ Panel concluded that no data exists to show that the use of these substances will lead to increased bacterial tolerance to these substances or increased resistance to other antimicrobial agents. However, some evidence indicates bacterial tolerance to other antimicrobial substances or biocides that were not the subject of this opinion.

EFSA has now been asked by the Commission to produce technical guidance on monitoring and collecting data on antimicrobial resistance so that the uncertainties noted by EFSA in its opinion on the four substances are addressed if an operator were to use these substances to decontaminate poultry carcasses. EFSA has proposed to examine this alongside safety and efficacy considerations, as data on antimicrobial resistance should not be assessed in isolation. EFSA will work closely with the Community Reference Laboratory for Antimicrobial Resistance in developing its work.

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