Meat can be transported at temperatures higher than the current maximum of 7°C without causing additional bacterial growth, provided that specific maximum transport times are applied and bacterial growth is controlled by efficient chilling. That is the main conclusion of an EFSA scientific opinion on the public health risks related to the maintenance of a cold chain during the storage and transport of meat. EFSA recommends specific combinations of maximum temperatures of the carcasses and transport times that do not increase bacterial growth. The maintenance of the cold chain is one of the main principles and basic requirements of the EU legislation on food hygiene.
Salmonella spp., verocytotoxigenic Escherichia coli (VTEC), Listeria monocytogenes and Yersinia enterocolitica are the most relevant microbial pathogens when assessing the effects of beef, pork and lamb carcass chilling regimes on the potential risk to public health. Moreover, as most bacterial contamination occurs on the surface of the carcass, only the surface temperature is an appropriate indicator of bacterial growth. The growth of these four pathogens (using E. coli models for VTEC) during different time-temperature chilling scenarios was estimated using commercial slaughterhouse data and published predictive microbiology models. The outputs suggest it is possible to apply slaughterhouse carcass target temperatures higher than the currently mandated 7 °C throughout the carcass (including the core) in combination with different transport durations without obtaining additional bacterial growth. Combinations of maximum surface temperatures at carcass loading and maximum chilling and transport times, that result in pathogen growth equivalent or less than that obtained when carcasses are chilled to a core temperature of 7 °C in the slaughterhouse are provided.
Thursday March 27, 2014/ EFSA/ European Union.