Submitted to: Journal of Food Protection
Publication Type: Review article
Publication Acceptance Date: 3/1/2005
Publication Date: 8/1/2005
Citation: Nacmcf, Luchansky, J.B., Acheson, D., Bernard, D., Beuchat, L., Donnelly, C., Downes, F., Engeljohn, D., Farrar, J., Garrett, S., Griffin, P., King, R., Kunduru, M., Perencevich, E., Swanson, K., Tompkin, B.R., Zink, D. 2005. Considerations for establishing safety-based consume-by date labels for refrigerated ready-to-eat foods. Journal of Food Protection. 68:1761-1775 Interpretive Summary:
Technical Abstract: The National Advisory Committee on Microbiological Criteria for Foods (NACMCF, or the Committee) was asked to provide advice on the requisite scientific parameters for establishing safety-based use-by dates for refrigerated ready-to-eat (RTE) foods to help reduce the incidence of foodborne illness. To address this request, the Committee reviewed the history of the use of date labels, conducted a hazard analysis of refrigerated RTE foods, provided examples of how Safety-Based “Use-By” Date Labels (SBDLs) can be formatted and applied. The Committee determined that if the SBDL concept is pursued, Listeria monocytogenes is the appropriate target organism for refrigerated RTE foods that support its growth. It is important to note that a SBDL will not prevent illness if the food is heavily contaminated, held at high temperatures, or otherwise abused. Research is needed to determine consumers’ knowledge, attitudes, and practices in relation to SBDLs (refrigeration times and temperatures) and effective formats for presenting the information to maximize the benefits of such labeling. It is necessary to demonstrate that behavioral changes can occur by application of an SBDL. However, application of a specific SBDL (month/day/year) at the manufacturer’s level is a concept that has many practical limitations. The magnitude in number, diversity, and complexity of products that exist in the market place make practical implementation on a large scale of the Food Safety Objective (FSO)-based SBDL difficult. Accurate information on initial levels and growth rates of L. monocytogenes for many formulations are lacking, and a FSO tied to a public health goal has yet to be established. Verification and validation data necessary to demonstrate the effectiveness of an SBDL will differ depending on where the SBDL is applied. For example, at retail, a validated safe harbor may be used for an SBDL and verification could consist of assuring that the date is clearly visible, legible, and correctly applied. For manufacturers, use of an appropriate safe harbor value based on the literature, regulatory or industry guidelines, or other authoritative source; or generation of scientific data using modeling programs or laboratory experiments could be used for validation. Thus, the Committee also developed guidance for conducting validation studies. Educational efforts that focus on SBDLs should be combined with an educational effort that focuses on the importance of refrigeration temperature control. As consumers and food handlers increasingly appreciate the importance of adequate refrigeration, this should lead to a reduction in foodborne illness due to pathogen growth.