Use of emerging thecnologies to guarantee the safety of ready-to-eat (RTE) meat products

In most countries, there has been a significant increase of toxi-infections caused by Salmonella spp., Campylobacter jejuni, Escherichia coli O157:H7 and Listeria monocytogenes (WHO, 2002) in the past decades. Up to 30% of the population in developed countries suffers from some foodborne disease every year, while only 1-10% of the cases are recorded by authorities. Many foodborne infections have been related to the consumption of meat and meat products.

The deep transformation of dietary habits is mainly evident in large cities. Consumption of RTE foods is more common both at home and away from home. Variety of presentations and contents is vast. Traditional manufacture of these products has evolved remarkably regarding sanitary conditions. However, it is worth noting that at present these products are handled for retail commercialization and sale and any action such as cutting, slicing, and packaging that facilitates household chores increases contamination risks.

In these operations, a variety of pathogenic organisms from the environment, tools, handlers, etc. can reach the food. Foodborne pathogens that can be present in RTE meat products are basically several serovars of E. coli, including O157:H7. Salmonella spp., C. jejuni, L. monocytogenes and Y. enterocolitica. The two latter will be the only ones able to multiply under refrigeration (not above 3–4 ºC). Growth of the others is conditioned to an abuse (increase) of storage temperature, a fact that happens quite usually in supermarkets and retailers.

Demands of sanitary authorities in Western societies are very strict in their effort to reach highest food microbiological safety in defence of consumer health. To collaborate with this praise-worthy goal, two concepts have been recently introduced. One is the “Food Safety Objective” (FSO) and the other is the intention of this objective to achieve an Appropriate Level of Protection (ALOP). The FSO is defined as the highest frequency or concentration of a microbial hazard in a food at the time of its consumption, providing the appropriate level of protection (ICMSF, 2002).

Besides the bacteria mentioned, a study about viruses in food will also be conducted to analyze their response to the above mentioned physical treatments, since very little is known in this regard. Viruses can contaminate foods prepared under unsatisfactory hygiene practices and insufficiently heated/cooked. Underheating would be the main cause for the presence of viruses in meat products. Viruses have been detected in meat (Larkin, 1981), poultry (Pether and Caul, 1983; Gross et al., 1989; Lo et al., 1994), hamburgers (Guest et al. 1987) and cooked ham (Daniels et al., 2000). The present project proposes the development of detection techniques based on molecular/genetic methods that improve time and effectiveness in viruses characterization. Model viruses will be used to study the effect of the proposed processes, in an attempt to define a FSO for viruses.


GLOBAL objectiveS


The fundamental objective of this project is to improve the microbial safety of different meat products (FSO achievement) in response to the current demands of both, the society and the meat industry. This project attempts to optimise control and decontamination procedures aimed to eliminate the main pathogen microorganisms in meat products (mainly E. coli O157:H7, S. enterica serovar Enteritidis, C. jejuni, L. monocytogenes and model viruses). To achieve this purpose, non-thermal physical procedures (hydrostatic high pressure (HHP), electron beam radiation and light pulses), and biological procedures (mainly bacteriocins) will be applied. Finally, the combination of HHP with biological procedures will be assayed.

Instituto de Recerca I Tecnologia Agroalimentaria (IRTA)

Granja Camps i Armet s/n, 17121 Monells (Girona)
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