Battling Listeria monocytogenes bacteria in food processing facilities

Food processing plants are susceptible to listeria bacteria because of the harsh temperatures it can survive in.

Food processing plants are susceptible to listeria bacteria because of the harsh temperatures it can survive in.

Food processing facilities have to be on top of their game when it comes to controlling bacteria in the workplace. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), food-processing facilities with ready-to-eat meat and poultry products are highly susceptible to Listeria monocytogenes (Lm). The bacterium often contaminates these meat products and other moist environments, soil and decaying vegetation, Science Daily reported.

Each year, there are more than 1,600 illnesses, 1,500 hospitalizations and 260 deaths from Lm infections. While Listeriosis is extremely rare compared to E. coli and Salmonella, Lm can still affect those who consume it.

Using efficient equipment to control Listeria
Lm can grow at temperatures as low as 34 degrees and it usually has characteristics that make it grow in high volumes, the USDA reported. With the temperature so low for contamination, food-processing facilities have to make sure their heat exchangers are able to control the temperature no matter how minuscule the change is to make sure Lm cannot grow.

According to Kornacki Microbiology Solutions, Inc., it's rare that food-processing plants are inefficient with microbiological control, but equipment can collect moisture and transmit Lm.

"These exist where moist, entrapped (or standing) residues are located in close proximity to the product stream," Kornacki stated in a report. "Such an area might include the back plate of a poorly sealed positive displacement pump used to remove product from a heat exchanger or residues entrapped in poorly designed valves located subsequent to a validated Critical Control Point in the process stream."

Temperature can make all the difference
Kornacki described different levels of risk for Listeria in food products and explained that in the instance of an exposed and cooling site where a molten cheese product was at 135 degrees, contamination could occur in wet areas in the facility, including from floors or ceiling watermarks. If the cheese product wasn't heated, it would be deemed a high-risk area.

However, the heat level to kill off the bacteria varies by strain, so food processing facilities have to have flexibility to adjust their heating temperatures to keep harmful bacteria such as Lm out of the product, the source reported. Using the correct sanitary stainless steel heat exchanger could give facilities the ability to work with different temperatures ranges and send out a better and safer product.

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