October 21, 2018

Food Establishments Warned to Not Alter Routines During Testing for Listeria

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has warned food establishments to not alter their routine sanitation, manufacturing, and food safety procedures during tests for Listeria. If practices are altered during tests, FSIS’s ability to accurately assess the safety of the food is compromised. The notice was published December 28, 2011.

FSIS tests include Routine Risk-Based Listeria monocytogenes (RLm) Sampling and Intensified Verification Testing (IVT). These tests can indicate important information about the establishment’s sanitary conditions. RLm sampling is done at ready-to-eat (RTE) production facilities only once every four years. IVT is conducted when a product is found to be contaminated, or when other food safety issues are noted.

Changes that some facilities have made, perhaps with the intention to reduce positive test results, include:

  • Temporarily increasing the use of a sanitizer only during the test
  • Drastically reducing the food production time
  • Drastically reducing the lot size of the product
  • Reducing the number of employees working on the product
  • Not producing foods with a higher risk of Listeriacontamination while the test is being conducted
  • Not using equipment that has tested positive for Listeria in previous testing

Listeria can be found in RTE foods such as lunch meats, sausages, and frankfurters, that may not be heated before consumption. Those foods can be contaminated by Listeria after cooking or pasteurization in the plant but before packaging. For instance, if a luncheon meat is produced and cooked, then cooled and sliced, the slicing operation can contaminate the product with Listeria.

In just the past couple of weeks, there have been several recalls and one shutdown because of Listeriacontamination:

This bacteria is hardy and persistent. It survives and multiplies under refrigeration temperatures and can live in a facility for years. Listeria causes serious infections and fatalities and is one of the most dangerous pathogens in the food supply.

If establishments are discovered changing practices during or before a test, they may receive a suspension of inspection, which shuts down production. A Noncompliance Report could also be issued, and the FSIS could deny permission to use the equipment.

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