Fresh Produce and the Problem of Listeria

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Several Listeria monocytogenes outbreaks have already been reported in 2016. This growing problem is plaguing the food industry, particularly when it comes to pre-washed salad and fresh-cut vegetable products. For instance, one of the biggest Listeria outbreaks happened at an Ohio Dole processing plant in January 2016. Thousands of products were recalled, but several people got sick. Learn more about this health issue and what the food industry is doing to handle it.

Listeria Is Difficult to Control

The food industry has procedures in place to control and prevent Listeria and other food contamination at processing plants, but outbreaks still happen. This is because Listeria is particularly hard to control. It can adapt to survive in a variety of environments, and it colonizes quickly on most surfaces. The organism is also transient and can find its way into plants on shoes, boxes, and even dust. Listeria hides in cold, damp places and has a long incubation period.

Listeria is a prevalent problem in fruit and vegetable supply chain facilities because of the temperature controls. Listeria thrives in refrigerated environments. Bagged salads are particularly prone to Listeria because several vegetables are blended together in these bags, increasing the number of items that could have come in contact with the organism. This scenario took place at the Dole processing facility in Ohio.

Dangers of Listeria for Humans

People can get sick from Listeria after consuming a small amount of the organism. However, it can then take as long as three weeks before they detect symptoms. This time lapse makes it hard to detect Listeria outbreaks before multiple people get infected.

According to Food Safety News, 10 percent of people carry Listeria in their digestive tracts without symptoms. People who become ill can experience life-threatening symptoms, such as sepsis and shock. People with compromised immune systems, such as infants and the elderly, have the greatest risk of contracting Listeria.

Prevention and Detection of Listeria

Food processing and manufacturing facilities must adhere to strict sanitation and testing procedures to prevent Listeria and other food contamination problems. First, all equipment must be washed rigorously before any food comes into contact with any surface. Then, tests must be conducted to ensure the food surfaces are truly contaminant free.

Produce processing facilities frequently use large amounts of water to clean fruits and vegetables in hydro coolers. When facilities do not have large enough drains and are not cleaned properly, Listeria can thrive. The refrigeration complicates the problem further. That’s why all surfaces must be tested for Listeria. Finished products should also go through testing to prevent Listeria from reaching consumers.

Even though Listeria is affecting supply chains more frequently, consumers shouldn’t get overly worried. Procedures are in place to detect the bacteria and prevent it from reaching consumers. When Listeria does make it to grocery store shelves, consumers are notified of the problem quickly so they know to watch out for symptoms of the disease. Improved Listeria detection tests are being developed to better control the Listeria phenomenon.

Listeria outbreaks are also problematic for the companies involved because they must recall products and suffer damage to their reputations. Businesses try to avoid Listeria outbreaks at all costs for the good of the company and the consumer.

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