The time between slaughter and minced meat preparation could be extended without increasing the growth of potentially harmful bacteria, according to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).
An EFSA Panel on Biological Hazards (BIOHAZ) opinion looked at the impact of time and temperature of storage (between slaughter and the preparation of minced meat) of fresh beef, pork, lamb and poultry on the growth microorganisms.
The panel suggested that red meat, vacuum packed beef and poultry could be stored at 2 °C for up to 14, 39 and five days, respectively, without more bacterial pathogen growth than what would be achieved under current legislative conditions.
Most microbiological pathogens will not grow at chill temperatures, and those that can, such as Listeria monocytogenes and Yersinia enterocolitica, will multiply slowly, if at all.
If the initial microbiological load on carcasses and cross-contamination during subsequent processing are controlled and the integrity of the chill chain is maintained from carcass to minced meat, the impact of time of storage on public health risk should be minimal.
Storage time problem
Requirement for maximum storage times between slaughter and the production of minced meat is creating problems for the meat industry, said the panel.
Current legislation requires that red meat carcasses are immediately chilled after post-morteminspection to not more than 7 °C and that this temperature be maintained until mincing which must take place not more than 6 or 15 (vacuum-packed meat) days after slaughter.
The corresponding figures for poultry are 4 °C and 3 days.
The impact of storage time between slaughter and mincing on bacterial pathogen growth was investigated using predictive modelling.
Available data on growth of the relevant pathogens in the different meats during storage at different temperatures are limited and could not be used for a systematic approach, said the panel.
The predicted growth potential related to ideal conditions and represents a worst case scenario.
To assess the impact of the time of storage of fresh red meat intended for the production of minced meat on the risk linked to microbiological growth, the growth potential of Salmonella spp., VTEC, L. monocytogenes and Y. enterocolitica was estimated at 7 °C for five and 14 days and for an extended period using predictive models.
Target pathogen selection
Target pathogens were selected based on occurrence on red meat or poultry, and/or their ability to grow at chilled temperatures.
They included Salmonella spp., verocytotoxigenic E.coli (VTEC), Listeria monocytogenes and Yersinia enterocolitica.
Campylobacter spp. was also excluded as it does not usually grow outside of their host and never at temperatures below 30 °C.
Transportation was covered in part one of the opinion which found that meat carcasses leaving the slaughterhouse could be transported at temperatures higher than the current regulations of 7°c.