Monday, April 25, 2016

Training and resources help food processors prevent Listeria contamination

Susie Bautista
Food Safety and Consumer Services Division

Image: CDC PHL#13102, Photographer: James Gathany
Some germs are deadly and can be spread by food, which is why WSDA routinely tests food produced in Washington to check for potential contamination from these germs. 

The germ that prompts the most food recalls for Washington State food processors is Listeria monocytogenes, commonly referred to as Listeria. This germ is one of the leading causes of death from foodborne illness. Older adults, pregnant women, newborns and people with conditions that affect the immune system -- such as those with cancer or AIDS -- are at highest risk for developing illness from Listeria. 

Listeria is widely distributed in the environment and has been found in soil, vegetation, silage, sewage, water, and feces of healthy animals and humans. It’s hardy -- it can grow at refrigeration temperatures and tolerates salt. 

Food processors are particularly concerned with its ability to become established in processing facilities or equipment. Developing control systems can help processors prevent conditions that would allow Listeria to survive in their facilities and possibly contaminate their products.

Here are two important steps food processing companies can take to control Listeria in their facilities:

Controlling Listeria is crucial in reducing incidents of foodborne illness and maintaining public confidence in the food supply. 

The Federal Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) aims to ensure that food processors take the necessary control steps. Some companies will need to comply with FSMA beginning in September 2016. Food processing companies can prepare for FSMA by attending an upcoming preventive control course in Washington State. These courses are for small to mid-size companies and are in high demand. So register soon at for remaining open slots

Dates and Washington locations for FSMA preventive controls for human foods courses:

Food safety resources as well as updates on courses and workshops in Washington can be found on the Washington State Food Protection Task Force website

By the way, when WSDA determines food is contaminated with germs that can cause human illness, we notify the processor. We coordinate these notifications with our partner food safety agencies. When they learn a product they produced may be contaminated, food processors generally choose to voluntarily recall the product. 

Information on the disease caused by Listeria can be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website.