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TVC, Enterobacteriaceae in ready meals


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#1 NoWFOOD

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Posted 08 November 2018 - 03:53 PM

Hi All

 

Go easy on me this is only my second post (first real one).

 

We currently send samples out for analysis to a local micro lab whom are accredited to ISO. Recently we had some ready meals come back with TVC and Enterobacteriaceae results greater than >10.

 

These results raised a couple of questions. 

 

  • Are ready meals really the same as ready to eat products?
  • Should they be heated as per instructions before analysis?
  • IF the results are high what is the fail criteria?

We have looked through numerous versions of the UK and Irish guidelines only to not have our questions answered. They suggest that a ready meal is a ready to eat product and should be tested after regeneration. I took this to mean cooking while other colleagues did not.

 

I have spoken to the lab we use and they don't heat products before analysis and don't have the facilities to do so. 

 

We have also spoken to our local EHO whom said they would suggest the meals should be heated prior to analysis but didn't want to advise either way as that would be up to the lab.

 

My question is 

 

  • Should ready meals in your opinion be heated prior to analysis? If so is this standard lab practice? 
  • If the the counts are higher than >105, which is deemed unacceptable is this a fail?

Thanks in advance for any advice you can provide.



#2 Scampi

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Posted 08 November 2018 - 04:22 PM

I don't know from your particular product, but from my own experience I believe you should be testing before AND after cooking in the same fashion your end user would (so if its destined for hospitals, a rapid steam oven, for in home, regular oven etc)

 

That way you will no if the end step is sufficient to kill what was already there......I hope this helps

 

 

If your the lab your currently using cannot do this, I suggest you find one who can


Because we always have is never an appropriate response!


#3 pHruit

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Posted 08 November 2018 - 04:48 PM

Hi NoWFOOD,

Are these produced under your own brand or for a retailer?

The latter will almost certainly have a defined requirement that you can use.

Some general thoughts below for you:

 

  • Are ready meals really the same as ready to eat products?

I would argue definitely not - if they require cooking/heating then they are not "ready to eat" in the form you're manufacturing them. The purposes of most of the guidelines on micro for ready to eat foods is that these define acceptable micro limits for immediate consumption with no further preparation by the consumer.  

  • Should they be heated as per instructions before analysis?

Probably as part of your general validation and for some ongoing verification, but whether this is necessary for every batch is something that you'll need to determine. I'd suggest that your microbiological limits should be established for the "raw" product prior to heating, as these will need to take into account the subsequent microbiological growth that will occur over the shelf life of the product, such that it's still safe (and organoleptically acceptable) when the consumer cooks it according to the recommended instructions even on the last day of life.

  • IF the results are high what is the fail criteria?

You're probably going to have to determine this based on the specific nature of your product, expected shelf life etc. Some organisms can readily be killed, some could form toxins that are thermally stable under the expected cooking conditions - it will depend on what your product is/isn't vulnerable to.

We have looked through numerous versions of the UK and Irish guidelines only to not have our questions answered. They suggest that a ready meal is a ready to eat product and should be tested after regeneration. I took this to mean cooking while other colleagues did not.

 

I have spoken to the lab we use and they don't heat products before analysis and don't have the facilities to do so. 

You may be able to find a lab that can do this, but I understand their nervousness to an extent - it's may not be part of their standard methods and thus potentially also outside the scope of their UKAS accreditation, so a test that is normally accredited may not be for this. They may also genuinely not have the facilities, so as Scampi noted, try a few other labs perhaps.

 

We have also spoken to our local EHO whom said they would suggest the meals should be heated prior to analysis but didn't want to advise either way as that would be up to the lab.

The lab is just a service provider - it is (sometimes unfortunately!) up to us as food businesses to define the service we require from them.

 

My question is 

 

  • Should ready meals in your opinion be heated prior to analysis? If so is this standard lab practice? 

I agree with Scampi (this is becoming a common statement!) - you should be doing at least some analysis post-cook if for no other reason than to check the cooking instructions work, but I personally think that you should also be doing routine analysis on uncooked product and have a specification in place for this, since this is what defines the product that you're physically producing.

It may also be the case that cooking could "hide" things that aren't a problem at point of production, but could multiply during shelf life to potentially become problematic.

  • If the the counts are higher than >105, which is deemed unacceptable is this a fail?

Unfortunately this is another area that really only your business can define. It is difficult to be specific on this since we don't know the product or what the 105 count is - TVC would obviously be less concerning than B. cereus! Whatever it is, I'd assume that the number is only going to go up through the shelf life.

 

 

Thanks in advance for any advice you can provide.



#4 NoWFOOD

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Posted 09 November 2018 - 09:17 AM

Thanks for the replies.

 

Kicking these responses round the office now. Looks like we are happy with our current approach but it needs ironing out a little.



#5 Charles.C

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Posted 11 November 2018 - 04:11 AM

Hi All

 

Go easy on me this is only my second post (first real one).

 

We currently send samples out for analysis to a local micro lab whom are accredited to ISO. Recently we had some ready meals come back with TVC and Enterobacteriaceae results greater than >10.

 

These results raised a couple of questions. 

 

  • Are ready meals really the same as ready to eat products?
  • Define ready meal.
  • Should they be heated as per instructions before analysis?
  • No.
  • IF the results are high what is the fail criteria?
  • Regulatory. Including shelf-life.

We have looked through numerous versions of the UK and Irish guidelines only to not have our questions answered. They suggest that a ready meal is a ready to eat product and should be tested after regeneration. I took this to mean cooking while other colleagues did not.

not > Clarify?

And see above.

 

I have spoken to the lab we use and they don't heat products before analysis and don't have the facilities to do so. 

Typical.

 

We have also spoken to our local EHO whom said they would suggest the meals should be heated prior to analysis but didn't want to advise either way as that would be up to the lab.

Actually Up to Regulatory.

 

My question is 

 

  • Should ready meals in your opinion be heated prior to analysis? If so is this standard lab practice? 
  • No. No.
  • If the the counts are higher than >105, which is deemed unacceptable is this a fail?
  • See above.

Thanks in advance for any advice you can provide.

 

Based on my lab experience, I offer a relatively succinct response.

 

I am a little puzzled how one can produce "ready meals" without knowing what they are ??


Kind Regards,

 

Charles.C





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