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ID NEWS: USDA strengthens regs to reduce Listeria in RTE meat and poultry items

The United States Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has announced an interim rule to require plants producing certain ready-to-eat (RTE) meat and poultry products, such as deli items, to take steps to further reduce the incidence of Listeria monocytogenes.

The rule requires all establishments producing RTE products that are exposed to the environment after cooking develop written programs to control the pathogen and to verify the effectiveness of the programs through testing. Such plants must share testing data and information relevant to their controls with FSIS. The rule also encourages the plants to employ additional and more effective controls.

"While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a 35% drop in the incidence of listeriosis from 1996-2002, it remains a very serious food safety concern, especially for the very young, the elderly and individuals with compromised immune systems," comments Under Secretary for Food Safety Dr. Elsa Murano. "This rule encourages plants to incorporate technologies that can kill the bacteria or prevent its growth after cooking and packaging. Furthermore, FSIS will verify through testing that plant controls are working as intended, focusing its resources to attain the greatest benefit to public health."

The rule becomes effective 120 days after publication in the Federal Register on June 6. FSIS will accept comments for 18 months after publication.

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