Vacuum packing ready-to-eat meat food safety requirements
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Food businesses that use modified atmosphere techniques to pack ready-to-eat (RTE) meats (e.g. vacuum packing) may be required to have a Food Safety Management System (FSMS) as per the Food Standards Code Standard 4.2.3 – Meat and Standards 4.2.2 – Poultry meat.
RTE meat means meat and poultry meat products intended to be consumed without further heating or cooking, and includes:
If an Environmental Health Officer identifies that your business is vacuum packing RTE meat, they will inform you of the requirements to have a FSMS, and inform SA Health of your business activities. The business will need to cease this activity until SA Health has verified that the business can meet the requirements of Standard 4.2.3.
NOTE: This information is specifically for businesses that are not required to be accredited by Primary Industries and Regions SA's (PIRSA) Food Safety – Meat section.
RTE meats have been associated with food poisoning outbreaks from harmful bacteria both in Australia and internationally.
Listeria monocytogenes is the main pathogen of concern with RTE meats as it can grow in refrigeration temperatures, under low oxygen conditions and is salt tolerant. At 4°C to 5°C it doubles its population every day, and it prefers to grow under vacuum pack conditions than in the presence of oxygen. In long shelf-life products such as vacuum-packed RTE meats, there is the potential for it to grow to numbers that will cause food poisoning.
It is of particular concern because of its high mortality rate in vulnerable populations including the elderly, pregnant women, young children and immunocompromised people.
Food business that may require a FSMS are those that receive RTE meat, and then slice, dice or shave the product, and then pack in modified atmosphere packaging.
There are ways that the business can reduce the risk of Listeria monocytogenes, and if they can demonstrate their products meet the following criteria from Standard 1.6.1 of the Food Standards Code, they will not require a FSMS:
A FSMS is the systematic examination of your business’ processing operations. It allows you to identify potential hazards and implement control measures to address the hazards.
A large component of a FSMS for RTE meat will include Listeria management which requires regular environmental and product testing for Listeria monocytogenes.
Your business' FSMS must be verified (audited) by SA Health (Food and Controlled Drugs Branch) as per the assigned frequency, which will be between 3 to 12 months, based on the performance of the business. This will be in addition to local government food safety inspections.
Businesses are responsible for any auditing costs that may be incurred.
If you are unsure if your product can or cannot support the growth of Listeria monocytogenes, the default position is that your products can support the growth, and therefore your business must implement a FSMS.
If the business stops conducting the activity that requires a FSMS, SA Health will no longer need to audit the process.
Third party audits e.g. HACCP Certification audits will not be accepted by SA Health.
Contact your local council Environmental Health Officer or SA Health’s Food and Controlled Drugs Branch: