June 2014

Research clarifies carry-over contamination risk during GMP production of minced meat

LGC research has established that there should be no detectable carry-over contamination of meat in UK meat processing plants when producing minced meat in accordance with current good manufacturing practice (GMP).
The horse meat episodes of early 2013 impacted upon confidence in the UK food supply chain and showed that the presence of undeclared species in meat products is of concern to consumers - particularly those consumers who choose to avoid certain species from their diets on the basis of faith.
The discovery of horse and pork meat in processed beef products in 2013 raised a number of questions including whether carry-over, i.e. adventitious contamination of meat species, occurs during industrial production of meat products prepared according to GMP.
There is currently no direct legal obligation for food manufacturers to clean equipment between processing one red meat species and another so a meat processor can legitimately mince, for example, pork, beef and sheep on the same line and on the same day without cleaning the equipment in between species. In this situation, it is clear that some carry-over will occur if no cleaning is undertaken.
This project, funded by the Food Standards Agency Agency and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, investigated how much and how the carry-over presents itself in minced meat following different cleaning regimes.
Reporting the project findings, Kirstin Gray, Project Manager for LGC's Environment, Safety and Food team, said, “This project established that when raw minced beef is produced according to GMP, either a deep chemical clean or a high pressure water wash between species is effective in preventing the carry-over of raw pork into raw beef with an associated limit of detection (LOD) of less than 0.1 % on a w/w basis. Also, when no cleaning is performed between species, carry-over does occur which needs to be considered by manufacturers when presenting information to consumers about the composition of meat products so the contents are accurately described.
Stakeholders now have the evidence to differentiate between adventitious contamination and deliberate fraud. There should not be an expectation of adventitious contamination or the presence of low concentrations of undeclared species in relevant meat products, as this project has shown that it is possible to clean to <0.1 % pork w/w using GMP employed in UK meat processing plants.
It should be noted that the outcomes of this project are based on the determination of raw pork in raw beef only. Whilst it would not be unreasonable to assume the outcomes would be similar for other species of meat, the work needed to confirm this assumption was not within the scope of this project.”