What is Reduced Oxygen Packaging (ROP) and

What Are the Food Safety Concerns and Controls?



Speaker: Shirley B. Bohm, RS, MPH

Consumer Safety Officer, FDA/CFSAN

Level of Knowledge: Multi-Level


Short Abstract:

Cook chill, sous vide and vacuum packaging are common forms of reduced oxygen packaging (ROP) that occur in retail food establishments. Most foodborne pathogens can grow under reduced oxygen conditions. Specific safeguards such as temperature control, double safety barriers, food with protective intrinsic factors, labeling, dedicated work areas, training specific to ROP, HACCP plans, limited shelf life and restricted use/sales can be used to ensure food safety and protect the consumer. Examples of various types of reduced oxygen packaging in retail food establishments (vacuum packaging, cook chill and sous vide) will be shown t facilitate recognition of the process. A step-by-step process will be described that can be used during a HACCP review and facility inspection using reduced oxygen packaging.

Long Abstract:

Retailers, restaurateurs and regulators were unsure whether cook chill and sous vide were forms of reduced oxygen packaging (ROP) and whether cheeses could be vacuum packaged in food establishments without a variance. What are the food safety concerns related to reduced oxygen packaging and what controls could be put in place to safely allow these types of processing and packaging in food establishments? Finally, what are the practical applications of this guidance for ROP in a routine inspection of a restaurant or retail food store?

The microbiology of two pathogens of concern, Clostridium botulinum and Listeria monocytogenes, drives the controls needed for safe reduced oxygen packaging. Cook chill and sous vide present a unique problem in that both pathogens of concern grow well below normal 41F refrigerated storage temperatures and secondary barriers are unlikely in most foods using this methodology. Most cheeses also do not have a single secondary barrier such as pH or aw in addition to refrigeration as a protective control for extended shelf life. This presentation will identify available controls appropriate to the type of reduced oxygen packaging and food being packaged and explain why they are needed or effective. It will also provide step-by-step instructions to evaluate a cook chill or sous vide process for small volume and high volume ROP as well as for vacuum packaging cheeses in restaurants and retail food stores.

Learning Objectives:

  1. Identification of food safety concerns of reduced oxygen packaging conducted in a retail food establishment.
  2. Implementation of reduced oxygen packaging safeguards and food safety controls to protect consumers.
  3. Evaluate application of code requirements during an inspection of a reduced oxygen packaging operation in a retail food establishment.