The procedures, as set out by the Microbiological Criteria for Foodstuffs regulation, seeks to harmonise the industry's procedures for detecting the presence of dangerous bacteria. It is being introduced as part of the bloc's new food hygiene regulations, which also come into effect on 1 January.
The new regulatory system is part of the European Commission's plan to reduce food safety problems within the bloc and restore consumer confidence in the supply chain.
A draft of the Microbiological regulation, published by the European Commission at the end of last month, seeks to harmonise the industry's procedures for detecting the presence of dangerous bacteria in their processes and products.
It sets out minimum testing levels, sampling frequencies, target pathogens, specifications and the appropriate methodology food companies must use during processing. It sets out the maximum allowable limits for specific food borne bacteria and for various categories of products, such as milk and cheese.
The regulation will apply to all food businesses involved in the production and handling of food. The criteria set out in the new directive will apply to products placed on the market during their entire shelf-life.
To ensure compliance, businesses will need to have a sampling and testing plan as part of their risk-based food safety management plan. The plan would need to be proportionate to the nature and size of their business.
Food business operators responsible for the manufacture of a product will also be required to conduct studies in order to investigate compliance with the criteria throughout the shelf-life of their products. Food businesses will be allowed to collaborate in conducting the studies.
"In particular, this applies to ready-to-eat foods that are able to support the growth of Listeria monocytogenes and that may pose a Listeria monocytogenes risk for public health," the Commission stated.
In the case of minced meat, meat preparations and meat products, food companies will be required to have labels informing consumer of the need for thorough cooking prior to consumption.
The directive brings into law international standards set out by the Food and Agriculture Organisation and the Codex Alimentarius' Good Hygiene Practices (GHPs), Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) and the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) systems. The international standards attempt to set up a safety system that will help make world trading in food easier.
Codex's General Principles of Food Hygiene, which deals with the basic rules for the handling, storage, processing, distribution and final preparation of all food along the production chain.
They include requirements for the design of facilities, for controls on operations, maintenance and sanitation, personal hygiene and the training of personnel. The procedures set out requirements relating to documentation and recall procedures.
The international standards are seen as a means of establishing a set of common food safety principles that will allow exporters and importers to trade more easier on the world markets.
The package of five hygiene laws adopted by the EU last year aim to merge, harmonise and simplify complex requirements currently scattered over seventeen EU directives. The single hygiene policy, due to come into force on 1 January 2006, will apply to all food and all food operators. While the package would lead to higher costs for food processors, it would also make cross-border trading in the bloc simpler for them by establishing a common set of rules.