ARCHIVED - Backgrounder - Changes to Health Canada's policy on Listeria monocytogenes in ready-to-eat foods

Notice to the reader

: The online consultation is now closed. Comments and suggestions received during the public consultation period are being considered in the finalization of this document. The final report will be made available as soon as possible.

After the 2008 listeriosis outbreak tied to sliced deli meats, Health Canada started a review of its policy on Listeria monocytogenes in ready-to-eat foods to update the policy with the latest science available. The revised policy incorporates the recommendations in the Report of the Independent Investigator into the 2008 Listeriosis Outbreak.

The policy, which delivers important guidance to the food processing industry and food safety regulators on appropriate measures to protect the safety of these foods, was last updated in 2004. The Department is now seeking comments from interested stakeholders on the revised policy. The main areas where the revised policy is different from the 2004 policy include:

New end-product compliance criteria

Health Canada has updated its classification for ready-to-eat foods based on the health risks they represent and the likelihood that they could contain levels of bacteria that could cause illness. If a food is produced without steps to kill Listeria after processing, and is likely to allow for the growth of Listeria, it may be considered a higher risk product. These criteria are the basis on which decisions should be made regarding the level of inspection and enforcement activity as well as the management efforts required by industry.

Updated definitions of which foods can / can't support the growth of Listeria monocytogenes

The list of foods that have been associated with outbreaks has been updated. In addition, more details on the types of foods/conditions that support the growth of Listeria monocytogenes in food have been provided. These are consistent with international scientific guidance from the Codex Alimentarius Commission.

More details related to sampling in the compliance action decision tree

The compliance action decision tree is a tool to help guide the decision making process when positive samples are found. This tool has now been completely revised based on the criteria and definitions in the policy. The new decision tree is based on the level of health risk the product represents and includes information on when to notify regulatory authorities, record keeping and specific processes and steps to be followed.

Environmental monitoring programs identified as key step

Throughout the document, Health Canada has emphasized the importance of environmental testing as part of an overall sampling plan for producers of ready-to-eat foods. It indicates that plants should regularly sample for Listeria in the plant environment to verify the effectiveness of their sanitation program for controlling Listeria. It also identifies the importance of analysing and responding promptly to information gathered as part of an environmental sampling program.

Post-process treatments and/or Listeria monocytogenes growth inhibitors encouraged

The revised policy strongly encourages food processors to use post-processing treatments and technologies currently approved by Health Canada to help reduce or eliminate Listeria monocytogenes in ready-to-eat foods. A list of food additives currently approved for these purposes is included, along with examples of post-processing steps, such as surface heat pasteurization and high pressure processing.

Increased focus on outreach

The importance of increasing awareness of the risks of food-borne listeriosis and providing guidance to personnel in institutions with high-risk individuals is mentioned in the policy. This includes the need for collaboration between the federal, provincial/territorial and municipal governments, to ensure that all Canadians receive reliable and consistent information.

Comments and feedback received through this consultation will assist Health Canada in the finalization of the revised policy.

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