Food companies that produce ready-to-eat products face a special challenge related to Listeria testing and prevention. Food quality and safety must be maintained while improving efficiencies and lowering costs at the same time. As environmental Listeria testing requirements increase to meet regulatory pressures, the job has become a little tougher. The biggest challenges with Listeria in a production environment are obvious–assuring you can find Listeria if it is present, eliminating it and preventing its return. Not so obvious-or easy-is acquiring a reliable Listeria testing solution that fits your real-world laboratory and production needs.
Explore this issueFebruary/March 2005
Finding the right solution
There are three key features to consider while evaluating a quality Listeria testing solution. First, the test method should be AOAC approved specifically for environmental samples if that is part of your testing program. AOAC-RI is the first level of validation that demonstrates a test method has been challenged and reviewed by a third-party. Although a number of Listeria test methods have AOAC approval, many of these have been validated on food matrices only, not on environmental samples. Environmental samples can contain sanitizers, additional background flora and other compounds, which can interfere with the performance of some rapid methods, rendering the results unreliable at best. Second, because most food companies cite elimination of false negatives as a critical issue in their testing programs, an environmental Listeria test method should be able to find all Listeria species at a detection level of one cell per sample. If your method does not detect certain Listeria species or has poor sensitivity, then you aren’t getting the whole picture and false negatives may be an issue. On the other hand, your testing solution should have a very low level of false positives to reduce the amount of resources spent chasing false alarms. Finally, a method must make good economic sense, in other words “quality at the right price.” While competitive pricing is a consideration, the hidden cost of adopting one method over another must enter the equation. Superior methods are designed to eliminate as many steps as possible while still achieving high quality results. Reducing the complexity of a test method has a number of benefits. The opportunity to introduce errors is greatly reduced and efficiencies are higher with methods that require less user intervention and hands-on time. Training costs, which are often overlooked, can also be reduced significantly when using a streamlined method. Higher efficiencies allow you time and resources for other activities and reduce the cost of your overall testing program.