September 21, 2018

Listeria (L. monocytogenes) poses a serious threat to the global food industry. Most notably, recent Listeria foodborne disease outbreaks have resulted in nine deaths across Europe and 208 deaths in South Africa.

In light of the threat posed by Listeria associated with ready-to-eat (RTE) foods, draft guidelines have been published by the FDA that include a risk-based approach to identifying and controlling the presence of harmful bacteria such as L.monocytogenes.

Risks of Listeria

Listeria is widespread in the environment. If infected by this type of bacteria, individuals often develop a disease known as listeriosis. Healthy individuals who develop listeriosis may remain symptom-free or, in some cases, may develop mild flu-like or gastroenteritis-like symptoms. Of greater concern are vulnerable individuals with a weakened immune system. Hospitalization is common, and with pregnant women, there is a danger that the fetus will also become infected.

2018 European Listeria Recall

In July 2018, several major supermarket chains in Europe stopped supplying ready-to-eat produce in response to allegations that it was contaminated with Listeria. The source of the outbreak is thought to be a food producer that supplied frozen vegetables from a facility in Hungary. Upon further investigation, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control identified five EU member states (the UK, Austria, Denmark, Finland, and Sweden) that were affected by Listeria-contaminated food products. It was further estimated that nine individuals died due to listeriosis between June 2015 and July 2018, and approximately 50 cases were confirmed.

The outbreak is a good reminder of the importance of consumer safety, and that leadership plays a critical role in developing and supporting a food safety culture. It’s essential for food facilities to have an effective crisis management plan in place, including an action plan for the surveillance, monitoring, and control of Listeria within the facility.

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