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USDA Report Examines Processed Meat Safety

Meat industry stakeholders, retailers meet to discuss new report highlighting favorable risk assessment on listeriosis

Published on: May 27, 2013

Stakeholders in meat processing, meat production and food inspection met Wednesday to discuss USDA efforts in minimizing the public health burden of listeriosis, an illness commonly associated with meat, cheeses and other deli products prepared in retail delicatessens.

USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service May 10 released the results of an extensive study of retail delis and the prevalence of Listeria monocytogenes, the bacteria that causes listeriosis. The group organized a stakeholders meeting following the release on May 22.

Lm requires special consideration because it causes about 1,600 illnesses, 1,500 hospitalizations and 260 deaths in the United States each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, fatality rate of listeriosis is very high – about 16%, compared with 0.5% for either Salmonella or E. coli O157:H7.

Meat industry stakeholders, retailers meet to discuss new report highlighting favorable risk assessment on listeriosis
Meat industry stakeholders, retailers meet to discuss new report highlighting favorable risk assessment on listeriosis

Overall, the report, which is the first to study the issue, showed that no single intervention will put an end to Lm in food sold at retail delis, but instead, there are many steps that retail deli operators and their suppliers can take to help reduce listeriosis.

Specific steps include stringent storage temperature requirements, inclusion of growth inhibitors and limiting cross-contamination.

No ready-to-eat meat and poultry product recalls have been triggered by listeriosis outbreaks since 2003 and listeriosis cases from all foods – not just meat and poultry – have declined steeply since 2000, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.

Betsy Booren, Ph.D., chief scientist of the American Meat Institute Federation, at the meeting said number of outbreaks have been limited partly due to action by the meat and poultry industry to identify food safety strategies and share research.

"We are all part of the food safety chain, and our meat and poultry processors are willing to meet with the retailers, share our experiences and develop partnerships to ensure the products we produced are safe and wholesome," Booren noted.

USDA Under Secretary for Food Safety Dr. Elisabeth Hagen said the risk assessment will be an asset in efforts to reduce illnesses and deaths attributed to the lm pathogen annually.

Click to read the full USDA report, Interagency Risk Assessment – Listeria monocytogenes in Retail Delicatessens.