Listeria and raw milk cheese: A risk assessment involving sheep

Semisoft cheese made from raw sheep’s milk is traditionally and economically important in southern Europe. However, raw milk cheese is also a known vehicle of human listeriosis and contamination of sheep cheese with Listeria monocytogenes has been reported.

sheep.milk.cheeseIn the present study, we have developed and applied a quantitative risk assessment model, based on available evidence and challenge testing, to estimate risk of invasive listeriosis due to consumption of an artisanal sheep cheese made with raw milk collected from a single flock in central Italy.

In the model, contamination of milk may originate from the farm environment or from mastitic animals, with potential growth of the pathogen in bulk milk and during cheese ripening. Based on the 48-day challenge test of a local semisoft raw sheep’s milk cheese we found limited growth only during the initial phase of ripening (24 hours) and no growth or limited decline during the following ripening period. In our simulation, in the baseline scenario, 2.2% of cheese servings are estimated to have at least 1 colony forming unit (CFU) per gram. Of these, 15.1% would be above the current E.U. limit of 100 CFU/g (5.2% would exceed 1,000 CFU/g). Risk of invasive listeriosis per random serving is estimated in the 10−12 range (mean) for healthy adults, and in the 10−10 range (mean) for vulnerable populations.

When small flocks (10–36 animals) are combined with the presence of a sheep with undetected subclinical mastitis, risk of listeriosis increases and such flocks may represent a public health risk.

Risk assessment of human listeriosis from semisoft cheeses made from raw sheep’s milk in Lazio and Tuscany

Roberto Condoleo, Ziad Mezher, Selene Marozzi, Antonella Guzzon, Roberto Fischetti, Matteo Senese, Stefania Sette, Luca Bucchini

Risk Analysis, June 2016, doi:10.1111/risa.12649;jsessionid=519D74728E4A34E1CE300B856B99D54B.f04t04