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Listeria monocytogenes in ready-to-eat-foods

28 October 2015  •  Author(s): James Marsden, Ph.D., Distinguished Professor Food Safety and Security, Kansas State University

Controlling Listeria monocytogenes in food plant environments – Listeria contamination is preventable.

Listeria in ready-to-eat-foods

My original intent was to write an article about how to respond to a regulatory and/or public health crisis involving contamination with Listeria monocytogenes. I will get to that, but first I want to make it clear that the efforts made to avoid Listeria contamination are of the highest importance and may very well prevent regulatory and public health crises. I’ve never been involved in a Listeria recall that couldn’t have been prevented.

It’s been 30 years since the food industry became aware of Listeria monocytogenes and the need to control it in clean room environments and Ready-to-Eat (RTE) food products. I remember the first case involving meat products that occurred in 1989. USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service followed the steps that had already been taken by FDA and declared Listeria monocytogenes to be an adulterant in RTE products. At the time, the absolute control of Listeria in plant environments seemed to be an impossible task.

Listeria does pose unique challenges. It likes the cold, wet environment that exists in many food plants. Often, the very things that are done to make plants microbiologically clean successfully eliminate the microorganisms that would otherwise compete with Listeria. Listeria problems do tend to occur in plants that appear to be very clean. Listeria contamination of foods usually occurs as post-processcontamination. When contamination of this type occurs, typically, RTE products are processed using a pasteurisation step and are then recontaminated with Listeria before the product is packaged…

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