FSA considering rule change for meat during Muslim holidays

A consultation from the Food Standards Agency (FSA) is considering changing the rules around the sale of meat on a religious holiday.

Qurbani is a religious practice that takes place during Eid al-Adha. Some Muslims prefer to collect meat and offal soon after slaughter as this signifies the start of the festival. Eid-al-Adha is a four-day Islamic holiday, but the exact date varies from year to year.

Since produce cannot complete normal chilling processes before leaving the slaughterhouse during the holidays, there could be greater growth of pathogens, with the potential to increase the risk of disease.

Industry representatives have asked the FSA to consider alternative options for sourcing Qurbani meat and offal during Eid al-Adha and existing rules. In Qurbani, one part of the animal is donated to charity, another is kept at home, and a third is given to relatives or friends. Slaughterhouses are currently allowed to supply meat that does not meet the regulations as long as certain mitigation measures are followed.

Current comment period
The agency is seeking comments on whether to make changes to refrigeration requirements for Qurbani meat and offal supplied by slaughterhouses in England and Wales during Eid al-Adha. Comments are open until September 11, 2022.

FSA policy director Rebecca Sudworth said Qurbani meat should be available for people to prepare and eat.

“This consultation and our dialogue with the authorities of the Muslim community broadens the discussion to ensure that this practice can continue, while ensuring the highest possible food safety and hygiene standards to protect consumers,” he said. she declared.

The FSA has commissioned an assessment to understand the difference in risk between allowing meat and offal to be supplied to consumers without the normal cooling process.

The pathogens evaluated were Salmonella, shigatoxin-producing E. coli (STEC), and Clostridium perfringens. It also covers growth characteristics and prevalence in beef, lamb and goat meat and offal.

Meat is often purchased on the day of slaughter and consumed quickly, reducing the chance of pathogen growth. However, temperature abuse during transport can be a problem.

Scale of practice
The risk assessment takes into account three surveys carried out in the summer of 2021, targeting food companies, official veterinarians and consumers. These surveys collected information on the origin of animals for Qurbani, quality assurance at the slaughterhouse, post-slaughter chilling, journey to consumers, and consumer storage and cooking behaviors.

Responses to the consumer questionnaire showed that out of 71 respondents, 28 said they undertook their Qurbani in the UK. Eleven of them said they had received offal.

Only abattoirs in England and Wales currently supply Qurbani meat and offal. There is still little or no demand in Scotland and Northern Ireland. It is estimated that 38 companies supply Qurbani meat to the UK. On average, the total flow is doubled on day 1 of the Qurbani period, compared to a normal day.

Of 20 respondents supplying Qurbani red meat, two said the animals came from customers, 15 animals came from farms and livestock markets, and three gave unclear answers.

Commercial performance and consumer trends
Nine slaughterhouses supplying meat from Qurbani had the status of urgently needed improvement or needed improvement following an audit, based on responses from official veterinarians.

Based on audits of Qurbani’s operating procedures, five non-conformances were identified, including no information provided to consumers, meat not packaged prior to shipment, meat not stored under active refrigeration prior to shipment, and meat stored under active refrigeration for less 30 minutes.

Information from the food business questionnaire revealed that the majority of carcass meat supplied during Qurbani 2021 was supplied above the regulatory limit of 7 degrees C (44.6 degrees F). A few also reported selling offal at temperatures above the legal limit.

In 2021, most meat and offal was supplied to the consumer via a butcher or agent, but some was collected directly from the slaughterhouse. Overall, 21 out of 28 consumers said they refrigerate or freeze their Qurbani when they return home. Two said they left it at room temperature to marinate. A third of consumers cooked their Qurbani medium-rare or medium-rare.

In a typical scenario, there is no significant difference in consumer health risk compared to normal cooling processes. However, in a worst-case scenario, Salmonella and STEC levels can rise, posing an increased risk to the public.

Significant uncertainties remained, such as the temperature of the carcass and offal when it reaches consumers, epidemiological data linking disease to consumption of Qurbani meat and offal, and the prevalence and levels of the three pathogens in the meat.

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