Listeria in Retail a Complex Challenge

By Maria Fontanazza
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Unfortunately, there isn’t a one-size-fits all solution for fighting Listeria in the retail environment.

The presence of Listeria monocytogenes in retail establishments can become a persistent problem. While maintaining vigilant and strict cleaning practices is key to reducing the risk, Haley Oliver, Ph.D., associate professor of food science at Purdue University cautions there is no silver bullet for a cleaning strategy, because every store is different. The rate of Listeriosis has not decreased but rather has plateaued, and controlling Listeria is a growing problem, forcing it to be a hot topic at this year’s IAFP conference.

“Attempting to regulate an industry as broad as retail in the United States is a huge challenge,” said Kevin Smith, Ph.D., senior advisor for food safety at FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. According to Smith, more than 2200 agencies are responsible for the licensing and inspection of retail facilities. Due to the massive size of the industry, much of the actions surrounding driving compliance and enforcing regulations occur through state, local, and tribal authorities.

The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) attributed 83% of Listeriosis cases to deli meats that were sliced at a retail counter, (as opposed to meats prepackaged at a facility). Retailers should be using the FSIS guidelines released in June,  “Best Practices Guidance for Controlling Listeria monocytogenes in Retail Delicatessens“, for specific information about how they can ensure the safety of products such as deli meats. Revisions to the guidance include a clarification that food processing equipment should be taken apart during cleaning and sanitizing; an added recommendation that retailers scrub surfaces during cleaning to prevent biofilm formation; and clarification that retailers rotate sanitizers to avoid development of resistance. According to Kristina Barlow of FSIS, these practices can extend beyond deli meats to any products that are prepared at retail.

Learn more about Preventing Listeria Contamination: A Practical Guide to Food Safety Controls

Date: Wednesday, August 5

Time: 2 pm – 3 pm ET

Barlow outlined areas that the Listeria best practices guidelines address, including:

  •  Product handling. “Use products formulated with antimicrobial agents to prevent growth of Lm—96% illnesses could be reduced if retailers used these products,” said Barlow.
  • Cleaning and sanitizing. It is recommended that retailers develop written sanitation procedures outlining the daily frequency in which utensils and equipment should be cleaned and sanitized. Equipment should be cleaned every four hours, and surfaces scrubbed to prevent biofilm formation. Barlow advised that retailers document all actions they perform to ensure that procedures are carried out each day.
  • Facility and equipment controls. Ensure that the floors, walls and overhead structures are clean. Listeria that is harbored in drains is more likely to creep its way into equipment, and the bacteria can also hide under dust and floors, so it is important to avoid construction when food products are exposed.
  • Employee practices. Use gloves, train in sanitation practices, and make sure that information is available to employees in multiple ways (i.e., other languages and use of images). In addition, implement policies to ensure that ill employees are not working with food; and limit employee traffic in the deli area—develop traffic flow plans for product, employees and other items to prevent contamination by both consumers and employees. Finally, employees should change aprons or other frocks when soiled. “Gone are the days when the butcher is covered in blood [and] serving people,” said Barlow.

About The Author

Maria Fontanazza, Editor-in-Chief, Innovative Publishing Co. LLC

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