listeria

Yesterday’s report on the recall of organic sprouts serves as a reminder that we still have a long way to go in ensuring the safety of our food supply.

In fact, Listeria monocytogenes (Lm)—the bacterium involved in the sprout recall—has been a key target for regulatory agencies in the United States and abroad.

In 2003, the U.S. Department of Agriculture made rigorous attempts to reduce Lm contamination after contending with 2 years of outbreaks associated with ready-to-eat meat and poultry products, according to Daniel Engeljohn, PhD, acting assistant administrator of the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service’s Office of Data Integration and Food Protection.

Aggressive food testing and a zero-tolerance policy have contributed to major strides in decreasing outbreaks, he recently told attendees at the 2010 Institute of Food Technologists’ annual meeting.

Stepped-up prevention efforts have led to a program that:

  1. Determines a specific product’s contamination risk
  2. Sets a frequency for regular testing

In the past, food products were tested at random, without considering the likelihood of contamination. Testing has also been expanded to 10,000 products annually. 

As a result, the incidence of Lm-contaminated, ready-to-eat foods has decreased to .38% last year, as compared to 4.61% in 1990.

The international community has also made significant progress in reducing infections, according to Ewen C.D. Todd, PhD, a professor of advertising, public relations and retailing at Michigan State University.

Photo courtesy of the CDC