A Cleaning (or Two) a Day Keeps Listeria Away

Apple Processing_BLOGSix tips for apple packers and processors to avoid Listeria contamination

Apple packers and processors are on high alert after recent news linking a Listeria outbreak to an apple facility in California. Seven people have died and 25 others became ill between October and December of last year, according to Reuters.

Listeria is a bacteria found throughout the environment—in soil, water and in some animals. It causes listeriosis, a serious infection marked by nausea, diarrhea, fever and muscle aches that primarily affects older adults, pregnant women, newborns and those with weakened immune systems.

Here are six tips apple packers and processors can use to ensure they maintain a Listeria-free facility.

  1.        Break production runs into lots

A lot is a code given to finished products that represents a time factor (e.g., day shift). Separating production into lots allows processors to trace the product back through their system and forward through the chain. Using smaller lot sizes can help to minimize the economic impact of recalls because they can be more easily segregated.

  1.        Clean, clean, clean

By implementing a rigorous cleaning and sanitation program, processors can more easily control any Listeria found in the environment. Surfaces that are in contact with food should especially be cleaned regularly to avoid contamination.

  1.        Test for cleanliness

It’s difficult to tell whether a surface is actually clean just by a visual inspection. Using a hygiene monitoring system that measures the amount of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) on the surface will give processors a more reliable result that they can record and track over time. ATP is an enzyme that is present in all living cells, and monitoring systems detect the amount of organic matter that remains after cleaning an environmental surface or piece of equipment.

  1.        Test for Listeria spp.

In addition to a hygiene monitoring program, processors can guard against a Listeria outbreak by completing microbial testing on a regular basis. There are many rapid microbial testing options available that allow processors to test for Listeria within an environment using a simple swabbing technique.

  1.        Document results

Each facility should have a record-keeping system in place to document all action taken to guard against a Listeria outbreak. Ideally, the records would contain information pertaining to each lot, in addition to general information, such as sanitation schedules. Thorough records will save time and headaches during an audit or in the case of a recall.

  1.        Repeat process often

Cleaning, sanitizing and testing on a regular basis significantly reduces the likelihood of a Listeria outbreak. After establishing a process, it’s important to repeat it as often as possible to ensure a safe production environment.

By following these steps and implementing a food safety program, apple packers and processors will send a message to regulators, retailers and consumers that they are serious about producing a high-quality product and protecting the public’s health. Food safety programs that involve frequent testing reduce the risk of potential recalls and legal issues.

For more information about establishing good agricultural and management practices that improve food safety, apple packers and processors can refer to the Food and Drug Administration’s Guide to Minimize Microbial Food Safety Hazards for Fresh Fruits and Vegetables. For questions regarding rapid microbial tests or ATP hygiene monitoring systems, contact a Neogen representative at 800-234-5333 or click here.

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