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23 Mar 2022

Listeria monocytogenes in processing plants: Incidence and opportunities

Listeria monocytogenes is a psychrotrophic Gram-positive organism considered one of the more critical foodborne pathogens of public health concern.

Listeria monocytogenes in processing plants: Incidence and opportunities

Listeria monocytogenes is a psychrotrophic Gram-positive organism considered one of the more critical foodborne pathogens of public health concern. To prevent illness, the USDA and FDA enforce a zero-tolerance policy for Listeria on ready-to-eat foods such as delicatessen meats and poultry.

Regardless, L. monocytogenes can still be isolated from food production facilities and retail products, indicating that current sanitation methods are not always sufficient. Both conventional and alternative poultry production and processing systems have also been identified as potential sources of Listeria spp. Concerns associated with alternative poultry production and processing can be further exacerbated by limitations on sanitation and available antimicrobials for usage in organic and natural poultry products.

With listeriosis estimated to cause 23,000 illnesses annually, it is imperative that intervention strategies be established to reduce the risk of foodborne illness to consumers, specifically L. monocytogenes. When factoring in demographic changes in the U.S., such as age and race, the rate of listeriosis is expected to increase from 0.25 per 100,00 in 2010 to 0.32 in 2030.

Opportunities for Listeria spp. contamination in poultry processing environments

Environments such as those associated with food processing appear to be a natural niche for Listeria spp. This certainly would hold for conventional poultry processing plants.

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In most food sectors, the primary contamination sources of L. monocytogenes were determined to be:

Surfaces such as slicing machines, packers, and conveyors that are in contact with the food product can become contaminated with persistent L. monocytogenes that can be brought into the plant from water sources, workers, or the raw product.

Once within the processing plant, persistent strains of L. monocytogenes can form biofilms, especially in crevasses on the processing machinery of drainage systems.

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The persistence of L. monocytogenes on food contact surfaces has been reviewed by Carpentier and Cerf (2011). Repeated isolation during routine inspection has indicated that the pathogen can persist for up to a year and potentially longer in some facilities.

The Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) indicate that [register] processing surfaces that have direct contact with the product, as well as drains and non-contact surfaces, should be swabbed, and Listeria presence detected through traditional microbiological techniques or conventional molecular techniques such as polymerase chain reaction (PCR) 

 

Listeria spp. prevalence in retail poultry products

Listeria contamination occurs in raw retail poultry meat. Previous studies show L. monocytogenes in raw poultry in supermarkets (Lawrence and Gilmour, 1994; Goh et al., 2012). A study conducted by Elmali et al. (2015) sampled 120 broiler wings from 5 different stores in Turkey and found 47% of broiler wings contained Listeria spp., with 54 of the 57 isolates being L. monocytogenes. These chicken wings were acquired each month over the course of the 1-year study to account for potential batch contamination. This study suggests that poultry may be contaminated due to poor processing techniques and other factors such as temperature and water activity.

*This is a summary of an interesting article from the following source:

Rothrock Michael J., Micciche Andrew C., Bodie Aaron R., and Ricke Steven C. 2019. Listeria Occurrence and Potential Control Strategies in Alternative and Conventional Poultry Processing and Retail. Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems.Volume 3. doi:10.3389/fsufs.2019.00033

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