The goal of this project is to develop a white-paper, to be published in a peer-reviewed journal, addressing the scientific support behind current Listeria monocytogenes process controls employed by the ready-to-eat (RTE) meat and poultry industry. The specific objectives of this white paper will be to:
(1) Summarize the scientific data supporting the importance of environmental L. monocytogenes contamination and persistence as the predominant source of L. monocytogenes contamination of RTE meat and poultry products;
(2) Outline the “seek and destroy” philosophy;
(3) Provide background on the development of the “seek and destroy” philosophy including scientific support; and
(4) Examine the L. monocytogenes regulatory policy for all RTE foods and detail the positive and negative aspects of each federal agency’s approach.
Status (as of October 2012): <br/>
To date, researchers have completed a comprehensive search of the scientific literature to identify publications and information related to L. monocytogenes contamination in processing plants as well as other food associated environments (e.g., retail deli environments), environmental testing, and control and elimination of environmental contamination, including relevant government regulations. The literature review indicates that one of the main challenges with regard to control of Listeria monocytogenes in RTE meat and poultry can be traced back to the fact that L. monocytogenes can persist in food processing environments and can be difficult to detect and eradicate; persistent L. monocytogenes strains have been identified as the main source of post-processing RTE food contamination. In addition, multiple human listeriosis outbreaks have been linked to persistent contamination in processing plants. As a result, eradication of plant persistent strains is a critical activity for regulatory compliance by RTE meat and poultry processors toward reducing L. monocytogenes prevalence in RTE meat and poultry products and reducing the incidence of human listeriosis. The “Seek and Destroy” strategy is a systematic approach to finding sites of persistent growth (“niches”) in food processing plants, with the goal of either eradicating or monitoring and mitigating effects of niches. The Seek and Destroy strategy employs environmental Listeria testing, and it has been used effectively to address persistent contamination in food processing plants. Thus, it is important to maintain a regulatory environment that encourages aggressive environmental Listeria testing, especially for RTE food contact surfaces. As microbial testing technologies are becoming faster, cheaper, and more specific, testing at the species or subtype level in combination with the Seek and Destroy strategy may improve efficiency and efficacy of Listeria monocytogenes niche eradication and reduce L. monocytogenes prevalence in RTE meat and poultry products.