Keeping Deli Food Listeria-Free: New USDA/FDA Report

Nearly one in every 10 cases of listeriosis caused by retail deli products could be prevented if all refrigerated, ready-to-eat foods were stored at 41 degrees Fahrenheit or below, as the FDA Food Code recommends.

That’s one of several key findings from a major new study on food safety in retail delis issued by the FDA and the USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) on May 10.

Although rare—it causes only about 1,600 illnesses per year—listeriosis has an extremely high fatality rate of 16 percent, exponentially higher than the .5 percent fatality rates for both Salmonella and E. coli O157: H7. The new study is a first-of-its-kind assessment of the quantitative risk of listeriosis associated with consumption of ready-to-eat foods from retail delis, linking deli practices to predicted health outcomes.

In addition to the cold storage recommendations, the study also found that other factors which could dramatically impact listeriosis infection include the use of growth inhibitors in all products that support listeriosis growth, rigorous enforcement of proper cleaning and personal hygiene to prevent cross contamination, and efforts to prevent low levels of Listeria contamination during processing, even on products that do not support the growth of the pathogen.

Representatives of the International Dairy-Deli-Bakery Association (IDBBA) say they were aware of the report, but had not yet had the opportunity to review it.

“Supermarket chain operators and independents take foodborne illness very seriously and have stringent quality assurance/control programs and professionals in place to work with manufacturers regarding product procurement and to train all deli personnel who are daily interacting with deli foods,” says Mary Kay O’Connor, IDBBA’s vice president for education. “In place at retail establishments are food safety provisions like certified food handlers, HACCP (hazard analysis and critical control points) programs, use of customized and off-the shelf deli food safety training, job shadowing with experienced deli workers, training from manufacturers and third-party businesses, food safety audits, and checklists and monitoring logs. Some operators have incorporated food safety components into the job descriptions and employees are held accountable for food safety. Some companies recognize and acknowledge the return on investment that active food safety programs can bring to a store or company.”

The FDA’s full report can be read here

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