FSA considers rule change for meat during Muslim holiday

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FSA considers rule change for meat during Muslim holiday

A Food Standards Agency (FSA) consultation is looking at changing the rules around the sale of meat during a religious festival.

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

Because products cannot complete normal chilling processes before leaving the slaughterhouse during the holiday, there could be greater growth of pathogens, with the potential to increase risk of illness. 

Industry representatives asked the FSA to look at alternative options for the supply of Qurbani meat and offal during Eid al-Adha and the existing rules. In Qurbani, one share of the animal is given 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 adhere to the regulations as long as certain mitigation steps are followed.

Ongoing comment period

The agency is seeking comments on whether changes should be introduced to the chilling requirements of Qurbani meat and offal supplied from slaughterhouses in England and Wales during Eid al-Adha. Comments are open until Sept. 11, 2022.

Rebecca Sudworth, FSA director of policy, said Qurbani meat should be available to people that wish to prepare and consume it.

“This consultation and our dialogue with authorities in the Muslim community broadens the discussion to ensure that this practice can continue, whilst providing for highest food safety and hygiene standards possible to protect consumers,” she said.

The FSA commissioned an assessment to understand the difference in risk from allowing meat and offal to be provided to consumers without the normal chilling process.

Pathogens assessed were Salmonella, Shiga toxin-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, decreasing the opportunity for pathogen growth. However, temperature abuse during transport can be a problem.

Scale of the practice

The risk assessment considers three surveys carried out in summer 2021, targeting food businesses, official veterinarians and consumers. These surveys collected information on the origin of animals for Qurbani, quality assurance at the slaughterhouse, the chilling achieved post-slaughter, the route to consumers, and consumer storage and cooking behaviors.

Responses from the consumer questionnaire showed that out of 71 respondents, 28 reported undertaking their Qurbani in the UK. Eleven of these said they received offal. 

Only abattoirs in England and Wales currently provide Qurbani meat and offal. There is as yet little or no demand in Scotland and Northern Ireland. There are an estimated 38 companies supplying Qurbani meat in the UK. On average, the total throughput is doubled on day 1 of the Qurbani period, compared to a regular day.

Out of 20 respondents supplying Qurbani red meat, two stated the animals were sourced by customers, 15 sourced animals from farms and livestock markets and three gave unclear answers. 

Business performance and consumer trends

Nine slaughterhouses providing Qurbani meat had urgent improvement necessary or improvement necessary status following an audit, based on responses from official veterinarians.

Based on checks of Qurbani operating procedures, five non-compliances were identified including no consumer information provided, meat not wrapped before dispatch, meat not stored under active chilling before dispatch and meat stored under active chilling for less than 30 minutes.

Information from the food business questionnaire found the majority of carcass meat provided 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 of 28 consumers said they refrigerate or freeze their Qurbani when they arrive home. Two reported leaving it at room temperature for marinating. A third of consumers cooked their Qurbani medium-rare or pink in the middle.

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

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

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