Listeria criteria in ready-to-eat foods may be amended to prevent the increase of food-borne illnesses in the EU

12 April 2024

Food businesses operators (FBOs) may need to ensure Listeria monocytogenes is not detectable throughout the shelf life of ready-to-eat foods which are able to support the growth of the organism. Currently the legislation stipulates that L. monocytogenes must not be detected in 25g of the food before it has left the immediate control of the manufacturer. The proposed amendment would extend this criterion to the end of life of the product. The aim of the initiative is to align EU rules with Codex Alimentarius standards.

A consultation on the draft act was opened on 10 April and will close on 8 May, 2024. If the amendments are adopted, it is proposed that the changes would apply from 1 January, 2026.

Listeria criteria - ready-to-eat food | Leatherhead Food Research

L. monocytogenes, a pathogenic bacterium, causes listeriosis, which causes high hospitalisation and mortality rates. L. monocytogenes is persistent in food manufacturing facilities due to its ability to form cleaning-resistant biofilms. It is commonly associated with chilled foods as it is capable of growth at refrigeration temperatures. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) reported that the number of deaths caused by foodborne L. monocytogenes in the EU in 2022 was the highest in 10 years. This has triggered the need for more stringent rules for FBOs for some foods.

The current Commission Regulation (EC) No 2073/2005 of 15 November 2005, which establishes microbiological criteria in foodstuffs, requires that in ready-to-eat foods able to support the growth of L. monocytogenes (other than those for infants and for special medical purposes), L. monocytogenes must be:

  1. Undetectable in 25g of product before the food has left the immediate control of the FBO that produced it; and
  2. Within the limit of 100 cfu/g throughout the product’s shelf-life.

Foods falling into this category i.e. those which may be able to support growth of the organism, include ready meals, cheese, cold meats and patés.

The proposal is to extend the applicability of the first criterion on detection of L. monocytogenes, to include the entire life of the product, where the FBOs is not able to prove to the satisfaction of the competent authority, that levels will not exceed 100 cfu/g. There is no proposed change to the current second criterion. This would mean that results would be unsatisfactory if the presence of L. monocytogenes was detected in any sample tested.

Affected FBOs are invited to provide feedback on the draft regulation, and are advised to watch this space. It would also be prudent to review food safety procedures and due diligence testing schedules, to be ready for the scenario if and when the Amendment is approved.

How Leatherhead can help

Leatherhead Food Research has a wealth of experience in assessing and testing new and existing foods for compliance with EU Regulation 2073/2005, both through desk-based review and laboratory testing.

Leatherhead's expertise and scientific approach can help companies optimise and improve their operations and create a more sustainable future. Please contact Leatherhead's Food Safety team for all your food safety queries, including questions surrounding the proposed regulatory changes to Regulation (EC) No 2073/2005 .


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