Today, after 20 years of research
and technology development, virtually all cases and outbreaks of
listeriosis associated with RTE meats and all Listeria-related meat
recalls are preventable using a three-step approach.
Listeria monocytogenes (Lm) is an important foodborne pathogen. Although
there are relatively few cases of Lm reported
annually (app. 2500 cases of serious illness), it is one of the major
causes of foodborne illness related deaths (estimated 500 annually).
Pregnant women, unborn fetuses and immune compromised individuals are
particularly at risk of listeriosis. http://www.cdc.gov/nczved/dfbmd/disease_listing/listeriosis_gi.html
Since the first case of listeriosis associated
processed meats was reported in 1989, the control of Lm in RTE products has been one
of the industry’s primary food safety objectives.
Technologies are available that allow for the
effective control of Lm to such a level that consumer
risk from RTE products is virtually eliminated. There are three
components to a totally effective Listeria control strategy:
since Lm thrives in the type of cold
and damp environments found in meat processing plants, it is necessary
to employ excellent sanitation. However, sanitation alone will not
eliminate Lm. Sanitation should be
augmented by the use of Advanced Oxidation Cells that produce low
levels of vaporized Hydrogen Peroxide and other oxidative compounds.
Because these anti-microbial compounds are in vapor or gas form, they
reach every remote surface in the plant. This technology also
eliminates airborne particles as a vector for Lm contamination.
Secondly chemical growth inhibitors (i.e.
Lactate, Citrate and Di-acetate) when added as ingredients in RTE
products prevent outgrowth during refrigeration. This is important
because Lm unlike most other pathogens
grows under refrigeration. Since many consumers eat RTE products after
shelf life expiration, growth inhibitors provide a safety net by
preventing multiplication of Lm
to dangerous levels even after long periods of refrigerated storage.
Finally, a post-process kill step i.e.
pasteurization using High Hydrostatic Pressure (HHP) or a validated
thermal surface treatment will assure that any Lm contamination that occurred
after cooking and before packaging is eliminated. By treating RTE
products with HHP or with a validated post-process thermal process in
the consumer package as a final processing step, the risk of Lm contamination is virtually
Microbiological testing of Lm in finished products acts to
verify that the combination of processes effectively eliminated the
RTE processors that employ this three step
approach will produce a safe product that is free of Lm contamination. As an added bonus,
they can sleep at night without worry about outbreaks and recalls.