Meat inspection

Introduction

The main purpose of meat inspection is to prevent and detect public health hazards such as foodborne pathogens or chemical contaminants in meat.

Traditionally, inspection techniques (visual, palpatory and by incision) for the presence of gross lesions, bruises or broken bones have satisfied public health objectives. However, these techniques are not always suitable for detecting foodborne diseases such as campylobacteriosis, salmonellosis and virulent strains of E. coli, or contamination by chemical substances such as steroids and veterinary drug residues.

Meat inspection also plays an integral part in the overall monitoring system of certain animal diseases and the verification of compliance with animal welfare standards. This is an important control point for the early identification of problems that may impact on public health as well as on animal health and welfare.

Milestones

EFSA has published several opinions on meat inspection procedures and provided advice on inspecting the meat of various animal species for public health hazards.

2020 EFSA evaluates the potential effects of delayed post-mortem inspection (PMI) of ungulates (cattle, small ruminants, pigs, horses, wild boar and deer) on public health and monitoring of animal health and welfare. In particular, experts assessed the effectiveness of PMI in detecting diseases when carried out 24 or 72 hours after slaughter or arrival at the establishment in which the meat inspection of game animals is carried out.

2011 - 2013 EFSA publishes six scientific opinions on public hazards linked to meat inspection. Each is accompanied by a scientific report proposing epidemiological indicators.

In these opinions EFSA identifies and ranks public health hazards in meat and recommends possible improvements or alternative methods for inspection of meat at EU level. These include revising current methods that may not be adequate for detecting risks or are disproportionate to the risk involved.

EFSA’s recommendations take into account the impact of proposed changes in meat inspection on the surveillance and monitoring of animal diseases and welfare conditions. Experts propose alternative measures where possible.

Animal species covered include:

  • Domestic swine.
  • Poultry.
  • Bovine animals.
  • Domestic sheep and goats.
  • Farmed game.
  • Domestic solipeds.

To carry out this work, EFSA drew on its expertise in a wide range fields within its scientific remit: biological hazards including zoonotic diseases (animal diseases transmissible to humans), chemical contaminants in the food chain, animal health and welfare, risk assessment methodologies and data collection.

Role

EFSA provides independent scientific advice and technical support to risk managers on specific hazards within different production systems related to meat inspection. EFSA’s findings are used by risk managers in the European Union (EU) and Member States to improve existing methodologies for meat inspection.

In May 2010 the European Commission asked EFSA to provide the scientific basis for the modernisation of meat inspection in the EU. EFSA was charged, together with the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), with helping to introduce a risk-based approach to meat inspection at all relevant stages of the meat production chain.

EU framework

The April 2004 Hygiene Regulations consolidated and simplified 17 outdated and often overlapping EU directives, resulting in an innovative and transparent single hygiene policy that shifted primary responsibility for food safety throughout the food chain to food operators. These new rules entered into force on 1 January 2006.

Food hygiene legislation – European Commission

Based on the experience of applying the Hygiene Regulations, in November 2009 the Member States called for new rules to modernise meat inspection in EU slaughterhouses and instructed the European Commission to develop a risk-based approach for considering specific hazards or production systems. The scientific opinions of EFSA, with input from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) are key elements in the Commission’s legislative proposals.

The EU framework, including EFSA’s opinions and recommendations, must give due consideration to relevant international guidelines:

  • Codex Alimentarius’ Code of Hygienic Practice for Meat.
  • Terrestrial Animal Health Code of the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), specifically Chapter 6.2 on control of biological hazards of animal health and public health importance through ante- and post-mortem meat inspection
  • Chapter 7.5 on slaughter of animals.