C. To help minimise the public health burden of listeriosis, USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have conducted a major study to better understand the risk of foodborne illness associated with eating certain foods prepared in retail delicatessens and developed recommendations for changes in current practices that may improve the safety of those products.
The study, a quantitative risk assessment, provides a scientific evaluation of the risk of listeriosis associated with consumption of meats, cheeses and other ready-to-eat foods prepared in retail delis. It also examines interventions that limit the survival, growth or transmission of Listeria monocytogenes (Lm), the bacteria that causes listeriosis.
"The risk assessment will be a tremendous asset in our efforts to reduce the 1,600 illnesses and 260 deaths attributed to this pathogen annually," USDA Under Secretary for Food Safety Dr. Elisabeth Hagen said. "Essential information has been gained from these findings, including the fact that once Lm enters a retail environment, it has the potential to spread due to cross contamination."
The study is based on observations of deli employees' work routines; concentrations of Lm
on incoming products and in the deli environment; simulations of the bacteria's transmission, such as from slicer to food; and dose-response modeling. The study was designed to apply to a range of deli establishments, from small independent operations to the deli departments in large supermarkets.
The study's key findings include:
• Storage temperature. If all refrigerated, ready-to-eat foods are stored at 41 degrees Fahrenheit or below, as the FDA Food Code recommends, at least 9 of every 100 cases of listeriosis caused by contaminated deli products could be prevented.
•Growth inhibitors. If all deli products that support Lm growth were reformulated to include growth inhibitor, 96 of every 100 cases of listeriosis caused by contaminated deli products could be prevented. While this finding is significant, the actual benefit may be smaller in part because growth inhibitor may be used in concentrations not effective throughout the shelf life of a food, and it can affect the flavor.