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FSA backs lactic acid in meat processing despite concerns

By Mark Astley , 18-Jan-2012
Last updated on 18-Jan-2012 at 13:00 GMT2012-01-18T13:00:20Z

UK food safety authorities have backed a European Commission (EC) proposal to authorise the use of lactic acid as a decontamination treatment in beef production.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) made recommendations to support the proposed use of the substance in meat processing on HACCP grounds “in principle”, following an EFSA opinion that concluded there were no safety concerns surrounding the use of lactic acid on beef carcases.

The FSA report, Draft Commission Regulation Concerning the Use of Lactic Acid to Reduce Microbial Surface Contamination on Bovine Carcases, was published as part of an EC initiated discussion on the use of lactic acid as a decontaminating treatment in beef production.

The EC proposal was drafted after a US Department of Agriculture (USDA) document, which was submitted to the European Union (EU) in December 2010, argued the process was safe and effective.

Currently, the EU does not allow imports of meat treated with lactic acid – something the US has called a “trade barrier.”

Not a substitute

The British Meat Processing Association (BMPA) has, however, voiced some concerns on the use of the substance in meat processing.

“We have no problem with the use of lactic acid in principle, but we are concerned that widespread use could lead to a drop in hygiene standards in some plants,” BMPA policy manager Fiona Steiger told FoodProductionDaily.com.

“We would like to see it used after the health mark, so there isn’t a drop and high standards are maintained,” she added.

The FSA has voiced similar concerns – showing approval for the treatment, but not as a substitute for good hygienic practice.

“As such we would insist that their use does not lead to a lowering of standards during the whole production chain, i.e. that they are not used as a substitute for good husbandry and hygienic practices on farm, in the slaughterhouse and in any further processing,” said the report.

Trade barrier

Lactic acid, which has natural antimicrobial properties, is found commonly in products such as cheese, pickled vegetables and meat, the report added.

It is widely used in US beef processing but meat processed using the substance is not currently approved for import into the EU – which the US sees as a hindrance.

“The USA views this as a trade barrier, arguing that controlled use of such post slaughter decontamination treatments is both safe and effective in reducing the number of pathogens on the surface of the meat,” the report said.

An EFSA Scientific Opinion on the matter, which was published and presented to member states in July 2011, concluded that the treatment raised no safety concerns provided the substance used complied with EU specifications for lactic acid as a food additive.

Current EU regulations state that no substance other than potable or clean water can be used to remove surface contamination from foods of animal origins unless approved.

“At present no approvals have been granted,” the report added.

The vote on the draft proposal is expected in 2012.

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