The FDA, in January 2017, released draft guidance for controlling Control of Listeria monocytogenes in Ready-To-Eat Foods.
The new guidance contains significant changes in the way the agency will regulate positive L. monocytogenes findings in the processing environment. Food handling personnel are a higher risk factor in contamination of food and equipment with Listeria.
The FDA Guidance is 21 CFR Part 117 – “Current Good Manufacturing Practice, Hazard Analysis, and Risk-Based Preventive Controls for Human Food” and who manufacture, process, pack, or hold ready-to-eat (RTE) foods.
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What is Listeria monocytogenes?
L. monocytogenes, commonly known as Listeria, is bacteria naturally found in soil, water, air, sewage, domesticated and wild animals and humans. Consuming foods contaminated with L. monocytogenes can lead to the life threatening foodborne illness listeriosis, which may primarily affect pregnant women, newborns, the elderly and people with weakened immune system. Common symptoms include headache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, cramps, constipation and persistent fever.
L. monocytogenes in Ready to Eat Food Operations
Foods eaten without any prior washing, cooking or reheating, (ex: deli meats and pre-cut or pre-washed fruits and vegetables) are considered ready to eat (RTE) foods. RTE foods may become contaminated with L. monocytogenes during processing because of:
- improper sanitation techniques
- poor personnel practices
- improper flow patterns
By not properly washing or cooking food products before consumption, consumers are unable to eliminate any possible L. monocytogenes contamination, so RTE food operations have a higher risk of causing foodborne illnesses.
Personnel are a high risk factor in contamination of food and equipment, especially where food is handled significantly. Following are examples of policies that could be used:
- Employees handling raw ingredients should not come into contact with finished ready to eat products.
- Proper hand washing must be done when entering food processing areas and when hands become contaminated (ex. after touching a garbage container or the floor).