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Family of Microbiology Standards To Help Protect Against Food-Borne Diseases

ISO Standards Can Help Keep the Grill Bacteria-Free This Summer

New York, Jul 11, 2002

While the picnic season comes into full swing and barbeque enthusiasts all over America celebrate the annual grilling tradition with foods cooked over an open flame, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has to answer to a draft report from government auditors finding its new meat and poultry inspection program faulty and riddled with problems.

As reported in a July 10th New York Times article, the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, claims that a new USDA program, the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP), is not working as intended to protect the public from bacterial hazards in meat and poultry. The report points to several areas of concern in the department's Food and Safety Inspection Service, including poorly designed inspection programs, faulty testing of bacteria, inadequate supervision by untrained inspectors, deficiencies in record keeping and an overall lack of enforcement.

The statistics about food-borne diseases are alarming: according to the Department of Agriculture, as many as 33 million Americans get food-borne illnesses each year and about 9,000 die as a result. The number of broiler chickens testing positive for salmonella has risen nearly 3% in a two-year period (from 9.1% in 2000 to 11.9% in 2002). The USDA also reports a nearly 50% increase (from 17 in 2001 to 25 in 2002) in the number of meat samples testing positive for a form of E-coli.

Is there a role that the Standards community can play to help protect consumers from serious and sometimes fatal food-borne diseases? Yes, voluntary standards help the government fulfill its mandate to ensure public safety and health. In fact, the International Organization for Standardization's (ISO) family of microbiology standards address such issues as the general rules for microbiological examination; and the detection of bacteria such as Listeria monocytogenes and E-coli-bacteria that can cause severe illness or death. The U.S. participates in the development of these standards via the American National Standards Institute (ANSI)-accredited Technical Advisory Group (TAG) to ISO/TC 34, Food Products; the American Oil Chemists' Society (AOCS), an ANSI member, serves as TAG Administrator.

Voluntary participation in the various committees, subcommittees and working groups that deal with the development of analytical and food safety standards in central to the ISO process. ISO/TC 34 is involved in the development of standards for HACCP, traceability, and the application of the ISO 9000 quality management systems to Food Products. Separate subcommittees (SC's) deal with individual food product areas and microbiology is the focus of ISO/TC 34/SC 9 and its working groups. "The development of consensus standards to evaluate food-borne contaminants is an important feature of the work of ISO committees and a testament to the importance placed on this area by the industry," states Dr. Richard Cantrill of the AOCS. "The development and implementation of HACCP standards will go a long way to alleviate the problem."

Additional procedures and systems to ensure food safety have been put into place as evidenced by ANSI's work with the Conference for Food Protection (CFP). Signed in May 2002, ANSI and CFP entered into a cooperative agreement regarding the accreditation of certification bodies responsible for ensuring food safety in all establishments serving or providing food to the public. [Editor's note: please refer to "ANSI to develop accreditation program for certification bodies of food protection managers" to view the full story.]

To view or purchase ISO's family of microbiology standards, please visit the Electronic Standards Store.

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