Cornell food scientists recently discovered five novel species of Listeria, and this has piqued the interest of food safety experts from around the globe.
The research was funded by the Center for Produce Safety and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Service (FDACS) Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, and was published in the International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology. The researchers studied different soil and agricultural water samples from the United States, which led to the identification of 27 Listeria isolates that could not be categorized. The research team conducted whole-genome sequence-based tests, which resulted in the discovery of the five novel species.
What does this breakthrough mean for food safety and food quality?
Revising Standards and Guidelines
Of the five species, L. immobilis, as the name suggests, is non-motile. This challenges one of the most common and traditional preliminary detection methods of the species—mobility. L. monocytogenes exhibits a distinct tumbling motion when viewed under a microscope. According to the publication’s lead author, Catherine R. Carlin, PhD, “This discovery effectively calls for a rewrite of the standard identification protocols issued by food safety regulators.” Researchers will now also have to study other parameters, such as the impact of temperature fluctuations on motility.
Updating Educational and Training Content
Great teachers are teachable too. Educators and trainers linked to the life science space understand the need to stay up to date on recent discoveries and advancements. This also means updating content within formal education and training systems, and informational systems such as marketing materials aimed at educating consumers.
When updates are made to scientific content, it is important to highlight not just what changed, but also why it changed. Using storytelling skills can help build a better narrative that your audience can comprehend. Clear, consistent, and easy-to-digest bits of information will encourage people to have more conversations around new scientific subjects, which, in turn, will impact how they approach food safety as a behavior.
Revisiting Risk Assessments
Listeriosis, though rare, is quite severe, as its effects can be long term. The recent multi-state Listeria outbreak that was linked to El Abuelito Cheese resulted in 12 hospitalizations, two pregnancy losses, one premature birth, and one death. While L. monocytogenes remains the species of focus, understanding how the other species of Listeria interact with one another may offer new insights. Food safety professionals may have to revisit how risks are assessed and categorized. Team leaders overseeing food safety management systems such as HACCP, FSSC 22000, etc., may have to reconsider how they develop their HACCP plans and operational manuals.
Updating Audits and Inspections Criteria
Making changes to standards and guidelines will also mean making changes to food inspection systems and audit strategies. Inspectors and auditors will have to develop a deeper understanding of these novel species before they can recommend necessary corrective actions, or cite areas of noncompliance.
New challenges present new opportunities. The awareness of the biodiversity that exists within the Listeria species will enable developers to think of new opportunities for improvement. Improving supply chain safety protocols and extending the shelf lives of food products will help promote sustainability and reduce food wastage.
It’s an exciting time to be in the world of science and technology. It’s also encouraging to see subject matter experts remaining resilient and educated while navigating the changes brought about by the pandemic, which has forced us to rethink how we solve modern-day problems.