Avoid This Common Ready-To-Eat Food Processing Equipment Sanitation Problem

ready-to-eat food

Did you know that 25-30% of people infected by Listeria monocytogenes die from the infections it causes? If you produce ready-to-eat foods, the risk of a contamination is high, and can result in a costly recall of your products. This is why the USDA and the FDA both have zero tolerance for L. monocytogenes in ready-to-eat foods.

If you manage food processing equipment for ready-to-eat foods, then you need to have a plan for identifying and mitigating risks associated with this serious hazard. This article describes key pieces of information to help you make your plan.

Listeria Monocytogenes and Ready-To-Eat Foods

L. monocytogenes is an organism that can cause foodborne illness. Studies show that it can be found just about anywhere you could imagine, like soil, animals, and water. It’s also common in food processing environments, and can grow on food processing equipment. L. monocytogenes is difficult to get rid of because it is tolerant of salt, heat, and even refrigeration. It is most common in highly processed ready-to-eat foods like hot dogs and sliced lunch meats.

One of the largest L. monocytogenes outbreaks happened in 1998. It led to 21 deaths and more than a hundred illnesses. 35 million pounds of processed meats were recalled because of the outbreak.

How do I know if my facility is at risk?

If you operate food processing equipment, then your facility is automatically at risk. L. monocytogenes can get into your facility from something as simple as receiving a contaminated shipment of meat. Once it’s in your plant, cross contamination can happen at multiple points throughout your processes. See this article about the need for a comprehensive HACCP plan to help prevent cross contamination.

L. monocytogenes can be transferred by your employees, residues on food processing equipment, or contaminated food contact surfaces. There’s even an opportunity for surface contamination in the time between processing and packaging by things like improper handling or even just exposure to the environment.

What can I do about it?

You should implement or update the sanitation program at your facility to avoid contamination. Many ready-to-eat food processors are experts in producing food, but lack the expertise necessary to conduct a complete plant food safety audit. For example, a study published in the Journal of Food Protection showed that something as simple as surface pasteurization of a product just before packaging minimized the risk of L. monocytogenes.

Given the risks in ready-to-eat food processing, consider conducting or scheduling a plant food safety audit and updating your HACCP plan.

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