European Court of Justice paves the way for natural phages against Listeria
Phages that specifically kill Listeria can be used during food processing to prevent spreading of these deadly bacteria on food. Over the past months Listeria outbreaks have caused many hospitalizations and even deaths and miscarriages in Spain, Germany, Austria, Switzerland and the Netherlands and have provoked public concern.
The recent Listeria food crises in Europe also revealed that even if a product has legally acceptable low levels of Listeria – and is thus considered to be ‘safe’ – the bacteria can grow out to deadly levels when kept on store shelves and even at home in the refrigerator.
Whilst food processors are responsible for proper hygiene, they lack tools to deal with naturally present Listeria and have urgently called for innovation and additional tools to keep our food safe. At the same time consumers are calling for minimization of chemical preservatives on food, as these can affect the human microbiome, which is an important part of our immune system. Phages represent an entirely new category in food safety, without these drawbacks. But ironically, the fact that the use of phages differs from existing methods, has been the very cause of delay in their acceptance in the EU.
Prof. Martin Loessner, ETH Zürich: As demonstrated and confirmed by independent scientific investigations over the past 15 years, phages are safe, natural and offer a simple, yet elegant way to prevent Listeria on our food products”.
In the US in 2006, the anti-Listeria phage product ListexTM, produced by the Wageningen-based life sciences company Micreos Food Safety, was the first phage product generally recognized as safe (GRAS) and approved as a food processing aid by the FDA. Phages have since become an important food safety tool for the industry on all continents. Listex won numerous industry awards, including the prestigious Food Ingredients Europe Gold Award for innovation, representing the European food processing industry. But whilst this European innovation was accepted across the world, in Europe itself the availability of the product was hampered by regulatory uncertainty. With the Order of the European Court of Justice this ambiguity is addressed and Listex can be used to prevent the presence of Listeria during the final stages of production from growing out to contaminated levels.
Listeria is particularly dangerous for pregnant women, the elderly and immune-comprised. According to Prof. Frank Devlieghere, microbiologist at the University of Ghent: “Eradicating Listeria, even under the most rigorous hygiene regulations and quality controls, is almost impossible”. Especially ‘Ready-To-Eat’ products are at risk of Listeria contamination, as these are usually not heated before consumption. Dozens of published scientific articles by universities around the world confirm the efficacy of Listex™ on Listeria-susceptible products. Efficacy and safety have also been confirmed by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).
Members of the European Parliament are now turning to the European Commission with the urgent advice to develop a specific EU phage regulation, but in the mean time, sufficient clarity has been established by the Court of Justice to apply this technology for the benefit of the European consumer, just as it has across all other continents.
Micreos Food Safety – Dirk de Meester, firstname.lastname@example.org, +31-646-048-503
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