Factors hampering control of Listeria in SMEs

Due to its ability to colonise, grow and form in niches in food manufacturing environments, the management of Listeria monocytogenes can be complex, particularly for food manufacturing small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs). In addition to an effective food safety management system, the perceptions of risk, control and responsibility within a food manufacturing business are important influential factors associated with the management of L. monocytogenes. Research exploring managerial perspectives of L. monocytogenes in food manufacturer SMEs is lacking. Consequently, this study conducted in-depth interviews (n=10) with technical leaders from food manufacturing SMEs to ascertain factors that may influence listeria management, such as factors associated with cultural dimensions.

Perceived risks associated with L. monocytogenes were related to business reputation and consumer health impacts, but such events were perceived to be unlikely. Technical leaders reported having clearly defined and well executed processes to ensure food safety; but for some, L. monocytogenes, as a single pathogen was seldom considered. Despite acknowledging that “everyone” had responsibility for ensuring control of the pathogen, technical leaders indicated that the ‘people’ attributes associated with organisational culture were difficult factors to control and manage. Trust in staff ability to assure food safety was widely discussed, with technical leaders acknowledging that food handlers may not necessarily have specific knowledge regarding L. monocytogenes. Some technical leaders perceived themselves as having the greatest levels of responsibility for L. monocytogenes. 

Overall, technical leaders perceived a medium level of risk, with high levels of control and high levels of responsibility for L. monocytogenes. Optimistic bias, illusion of invulnerability, illusion of control, and perceived attribution of responsibility are discussed, which may hinder implementation of effective listeria management in SME food manufacturing businesses. Consideration of specific pathogen risks in food manufacture in relation to food safety cultural dimensions may assist development of highly targeted and effective interventions.

Exploring listeria monocytogenes perceptions in small and medium sized food manufacturers: technical leaders’ perceptions of risk, control and responsibility

Food Control

Ellen Evans, Emma Samuel, Elizabeth Redmond, Helen Taylor

https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foodcont.2021.108078

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0956713521002164

The recent supreme court decision on the deadliest foodborne disease outbreak in Canadian history

Gladys Osien and Ron Doering from Gowling WLG write in the latest Food in Canada that the listeriosis outbreak linked to cold cuts from a Maple Leaf Foods plant in Toronto in 2008 resulted in 57 confirmed cases and 22 deaths. It was the deadliest foodborne disease outbreak in Canadian history. The recall reportedly cost the company $20 million.

A class action lawsuit from affected consumers and their families was settled quickly by Maple Leaf and its insurance company. But that was not the end of the matter. To carry out extensive sanitation, the plant was closed for several weeks with the result that retail customers and distributors did not obtain their usual supply. 424 Mr. Sub franchise operators sued Maple Leaf for lost sales and damage to reputation. In November 2020, the Supreme Court of Canada in a 5-4 majority decision dismissed the case against Maple Leaf with important implications for Canadian food companies.

The question before the Court boiled down to whether Maple Leaf owed the requisite duty of care to the franchisees, a necessary step in establishing whether the franchisees have the right to recover damages in the tort of negligence. The Court held that Maple Leaf did not owe such a duty, especially for the protection of purely economic interest.

A duty of care must establish above all else what the law calls proximity. The Court held that the Mr. Sub franchisees failed to establish the requisite qualities of closeness and directness between the parties. (You can see there is a lot of discretion here.) The Court instead determined that the proximity, established by the responsibility and undertaking to supply meat fit for human consumption, and the rights to receive a supply of safe goods was between Maple Leaf and consumers, not the franchisees. The court reinforced the need for proximity to establish duty of care.

A key factor in the Court’s ruling was the fact that the franchisees could have protected themselves in contract law. There were multipartite arrangements but these did not specifically address the liability for economic loss in the event of a failure to supply product. The Court was reluctant to impose a duty of care in circumstances where the parties could have protected themselves through contracts.

The decision in 8871682 Ontario Inc v. Maple Leaf Foods Inc 2020 SCC 35 has some important lessons for Canadian food companies.

Review supplier warranty agreements: The older of the authors remembers being quite surprised 20 years ago to learn that many large Canadian food companies didn’t even have such agreements. They had longstanding handshake or simple purchase arrangements but did not have legally-drafted contracts to clarify rights and responsibilities in the case of a recall, for example.

One company did not even realize that its main product had 22 ingredients and any one of them could cause a huge recall with serious economic cost. And suppliers too have to be careful; a manufacturer may insist that a supplier undertake to compensate for any and all losses from a voluntary recall, a liability that might far exceed the value of the sale.

Review insurance coverage: Over the years several of our clients have been surprised by wording in their policies. In one case, a claim for losses from a large recall was denied because the client had failed to fully meet Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs) as the policy required even though another negligent party was the principal cause of the product contamination.

Review sourcing practices: Many supplier warranty agreements rely on audits to ensure compliance with the agreement. However, audits are notoriously unreliable, particularly if the product or ingredient is sourced outside Canada. A supplier may be meeting all GMPs on the Tuesday when the auditor is there but not on the Wednesday after he’s gone. After learning this the hard way, some companies source from domestic suppliers even if it would be cheaper to get the ingredient from abroad.

Food companies should not expect to recover certain economic losses from manufacturer recalls, unless they are protected by contract: A negligence action against a manufacturer for economic losses that are unconnected to a physical or mental injury, or to physical damage to property (ie. purely economic) are rarely rewarded in court. Courts do not accept that manufacturers owe a broad duty of care to distributors.

Every Canadian food company should review this case with its lawyer.

Ron Doering BA, LLB, MA, LLD is counsel and Gladys Osien BSc, MSc, JD is an associate in the Ottawa offices of Gowling WLG.

Listeriosis in England and Wales: Summary for 2019

This report summarises the number and characteristics of confirmed cases of listeriosis in England and Wales in 2019:

  • 142 cases of listeriosis were reported in England and Wales;
  • incidence rates of listeriosis were highest in people aged 80 years and over;
  • the crude incidence of listeriosis was lower in men than women, but reported cases among men aged 60 to 69 were 7 times higher than in women aged 60 to 69;
  • pregnancy-associated infections accounted for 17.6% of all reported cases and, a third of pregnancy-associated cases resulted in stillbirth or miscarriage;
  • among non-pregnancy associated cases of listeriosis, death was reported for 23 cases (19.7%), of whom 15 (12.8%) were known to have listeriosis recorded as a cause of death on the death certificate
  • incidence of listeriosis varied geographically, with the lowest incidence in East of England (0.14 per 100,000 population) and the highest in London (0.39 per 100,0000 population); and,
  • there were 4 listeriosis outbreaks investigated in England, including a national outbreak associated with the consumption of prepacked hospital sandwiches.

Uncooked, frozen chicken thingies can support Listeria growth while refrigerated

Battered poultry products may be wrongly regarded and treated by consumers as ready-to-eat and, as such, be implicated in foodborne disease outbreaks. This study aimed at the quantitative description of the growth behavior of Listeria monocytogenes in fresh, partially cooked (non-ready-to-eat) battered chicken nuggets as function of temperature.

Commercially prepared chicken breast nuggets were inoculated with L. monocytogenes and stored at different isothermal conditions (4, 8, 12, and 16 ◦C). The pathogen’s growth behavior was characterized via a two-step predictive modelling approach: estimation of growth kinetic parameters using a primary model, and description of the effect of temperature on the estimated maximum specific growth rate (µmax) using a secondary model. Model evaluation was undertaken using independent growth data under both constant and dynamic temperature conditions.

According to the findings of this study, L. monocytogenes may proliferate in battered chicken nuggets in the course of their shelf life to levels potentially hazardous for susceptible population groups, even under well-controlled refrigerated storage conditions. Model evaluation demonstrated a satisfactory performance, where the estimated bias factor (Bf ) was 0.92 and 1.08 under constant and dynamic temperature conditions, respectively, while the accuracy factor (Af ) value was 1.08, in both cases. The collected data should be useful in model development and quantitative microbiological risk assessment in battered poultry products.

Growth of listeria monocytogenes in partially cooked battered chicken nuggets as a function of storage temperature

Foods

Alexandra Lianou 1,2,* , Ourania Raftopoulou 1,3, Evgenia Spyrelli 1 and George-John E. Nychas

https://www.google.com/url?rct=j&sa=t&url=https://www.mdpi.com/2304-8158/10/3/533/pdf&ct=ga&cd=CAEYAioUMTU3Mzc2NTg4ODIwOTE2MzgzNjUyGmJjNzcwZjA5NzVmNGIyOGU6Y29tOmVuOlVT&usg=AFQjCNGHUZ4Vg4Z1TEbxdVmoTgOmDqUPkQ

Humans and animals both at risk from contaminated pet food

Some time about 2009, I was walking the dogs on a Sunday morning on the Kansas State University campus with a Canadian graduate student who was getting her MS degree at K-State, and we ran into University president, Jon Wefald.

We exchanged pleasantries, he was enamored by the dogs, and soon the conversation turned a pet food recall that had sickened dozens of humans with some bad bug.

Jon asked me, how are people getting sick from pet food and I explained the sometimes lack of process validation in pet food, the wonderful world of cross-contamination, of and that sometimes people ate pet food directly.

Jon was aghast.

I was, meh.

So that’ why these pet food recalls s are important, because the product can all to easily sicken humans along with their pets.

Bravo Packing, Inc. has recalled all Ground Beef and Performance Dog frozen raw pet food because it may be contaminated with bacteria like Salmonella and Listeria monocytogenes.

No illnesses have been reported, but pets who eat the food and people who handle it can become sick with Salmonella and/or Listeria infections.

The recall involves Performance Dog and Ground Beef Raw Pet Food, which are both sold frozen in 2-pound and 5-pound plastic sleeves.

Bravo Packing issued the recall voluntarily after product samples of Performance Dog and a sample of Ground Beef tested positive for Salmonella and Listeria after an FDA inspection.

The FDA warns that pets with Salmonella infections may be lethargic and have diarrhea or bloody diarrhea, fever, vomiting, decreased appetite, abdominal pain, or show no symptoms at all.

Avocados as a source of Listeria

Outbreaks of Listeria monocytogenes (L. monocytogenes) infections have historically been associated with contaminated deli meats, but recent outbreaks have been linked to produce. To date, avocados have not been identified as the source of any outbreaks of L. monocytogenes infections in the United States, but avocado samples have yielded strains that were closely related genetically to clinical L. monocytogenes isolates.

To determine whether avocados have been a source of listeriosis, we conducted a retrospective review of epidemiological data for clinical isolates that were genetically related to isolates from avocados. Using a national database, we identified clusters containing clinical and at least one avocado isolate. We then selected clusters based upon isolation dates, cluster and composition size, and available food history data. For each cluster, we assessed whether (1) avocado consumption was higher among case-patients in the cluster than among those with sporadic illnesses, and (2) whether the only food isolates within the cluster were from avocados. If both conditions were met, the link was considered “likely,” if one condition was met the link was considered “possible,” and if neither condition was met evidence was “limited.”

Five of fifteen clusters met criteria for assessment. Of these, two were classified as having “limited” evidence for a link to avocados, two as “possible,” and one as “likely.” For the cluster considered “likely”, avocado consumption was significantly higher among case-patients in the cluster compared to sporadic illnesses (Odds ratio: 8.5, 95% CI 1.5-86.5). We identified three clusters that were likely or possibly linked to avocados, suggesting avocados could be a source of listeriosis in the United States.

Messaging on safe handling might be warranted for groups at higher risk, but further research is first needed to better characterize the ecology of pathogens on avocados and likelihood of internalization of L. monocytogenes.

 

Evaluation of avocados as a possible source of listeria monocytogenes infections, United States, 2016-2019, 16 February 2021

Journal of Food Protection

Mary Pomeroy ; Amanda Conrad ; James B. Pettengill ; Monica McClure ; Allison A. Wellman ; Jessie Marus ; Jasmine Huffman ; Matthew Wise

https://doi.org/10.4315/JFP-20-419

https://meridian.allenpress.com/jfp/article-abstract/doi/10.4315/JFP-20-419/461503/Evaluation-of-avocados-as-a-possible-source-of?redirectedFrom=fulltext

Listeria outbreak linked to queso fresco made by El Abuelito Cheese Inc.

Fast Facts

Illnesses: 11

Hospitalizations: 10

Deaths: 1

States: 4

Recall: Yes

Investigation status: Active

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control reports that on February 28, El Abuelito Cheese Inc. recalled quesillo and requeson cheesesexternal icon, in addition to the previously recalled queso fresco cheesesexternal icon. These cheeses were made or packed at the same facility as the contaminated queso fresco.

Queso Fresco with sell-buy dates through 03/28/21

Brand names: El Abuelito, Rio Grande, Rio Lindo

The El Abuelito brand 5-lb product may be repacked by stores and sold without a brand label or labeled with a different brand.

Quesillo (Oaxaca, string cheese) with sell-buy dates through 04/16/21

Brand names: El Abuelito, El Viejito, El Paisano, El Sabrosito, La Cima, Quesos Finos, San Carlos, Ideal

Many of the quesillo products were sold in bulk (5-14 lb bags). These products may be repacked by stores and sold without a brand label or labeled with a different brand.

Requeson (ricotta) with sell-buy dates through 03/14/21

Brand names: El Abuelito, El Viejito

These products were sold in 12-oz clamshell containers.

What You Should Do

Do not eat recalled queso fresco, quesillo, or requeson cheeses. Throw them away or return them to where you bought them.

Listeria, caramel apples and food contact surfaces

The 2014 caramel apple listeriosis outbreak was traced back to cross-contamination between food contact surfaces (FCS) of equipment used for packing and fresh apples. For Washington State, the leading apple producer in the U.S with 79% of its total production directed to the fresh market, managing the risk of apple contamination with Listeria monocytogenes within the packing environment is crucial. The objectives of this study were to determine the prevalence of Listeria spp. on FCS in Washington State apple packinghouses over two packing seasons, and to identify those FCS types with the greatest likelihood to harbor Listeria spp.

Five commercial apple packinghouses were visited quarterly over two consecutive year-long packing seasons. A range of 27 to 50 FCS were swabbed at each facility to detect Listeria spp. at two timings of sampling, (i) post-sanitation and (ii) in-process (three hours of packinghouse operation), following a modified protocol of the FDA’s Bacteriological Analytical Manual method.

Among 2,988 samples tested, 4.6% (n=136) were positive for Listeria spp. Wax coating was the unit operation from which Listeria spp. were most frequently isolated. The FCS that showed the greatest prevalence of Listeria spp. were polishing brushes, stainless steel dividers and brushes under fans/blowers, and dryer rollers. The prevalence of Listeria spp. on FCS increased throughout apple storage time. The results of this study will aid apple packers in controlling for contamination and harborage of L. monocytogenes and improving cleaning and sanitation practices of the most Listeria-prevalent FCS.IMPORTANCE Since 2014, fresh apples have been linked to outbreaks and recalls associated with post-harvest cross-contamination with the foodborne pathogen L. monocytogenes These situations drive both public health burden and economic loss and underscore the need for continued scrutiny of packinghouse management to eliminate potential Listeria spp. niches. This research assesses the prevalence of Listeria spp. on FCS in apple packinghouses and identifies those FCS most likely to harbor Listeria spp. Such findings are essential for the apple packing industry striving to further understand and exhaustively mitigate the risk of contamination with L. monocytogenes to prevent future listeriosis outbreaks and recalls.

Prevalence of listeria species on food contact surfaces in Washington state apple packinghouses, 2021

Applied Environmental Microbiology

Blanca Ruiz-Llacsahuanga 1Alexis Hamilton 1Robyn Zaches 1Ines Hanrahan 2Faith Critzer 3

DOI: 10.1128/AEM.02932-20

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33608295/

10 dead, 24 sick: Listeria in cheese in Switzerland

Swiss authorities are investigating if cheese from one company is linked to the deaths of 10 people with listeriosis since 2018.

The Schwyz Public Prosecutor’s Office has opened criminal proceedings in connection with Listeria in dairy products and is investigating allegations against the owner of the cheese firm.

A total of 34 cases are believed to have been infected with the same Listeria strain that was detected in brie from the dairy, according to the criminal complaint. Ten of the 34 sick people died. This resulted from analyzes commissioned by the federal government.

The ongoing investigation, with Schwyz police, includes whether the business owner is responsible for the illnesses and has violated food law.

Käserei Vogel AG, based in Steinerberg, a municipality of Schwyz, found Listeria in semi-hard cheese and at its production site in May this year. The company issued a recall, told authorities and informed its buyers to remove the products from shelves. The cheesemaker has already closed the business. More than 25 items sold across Switzerland were recalled and distribution also included Belgium and Germany.

Listeriosis caused by persistence of listeria monocytogenes serotype 4b sequence type 6 in cheese production environment

Emerging Infectious Diseases vol. 27

Magdalena Nüesch-Inderbinen , Guido V. Bloemberg, Andrea Müller, Marc J.A. Stevens, Nicole Cernela, Beat Kollöffel, and Roger Stephan

https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/article/27/1/20-3266_article

A nationwide outbreak of human listeriosis in Switzerland was traced to persisting environmental contamination of a cheese dairy with Listeria monocytogenes serotype 4b, sequence type 6, cluster type 7488. Whole-genome sequencing was used to match clinical isolates to a cheese sample and to samples from numerous sites within the production environment.

7 sick: Listeria (listeriosis) in Hispanic-style fresh and soft cheeses

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), public health and regulatory officials in several states, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are collecting different types of data to investigate a multistate outbreak of Listeria monocytogenes infections.

Epidemiologic data show that Hispanic-style fresh and soft cheeses may be contaminated with Listeria and may be making people sick. A specific type or brand of Hispanic-style fresh and soft cheese has not yet been identified.

As of February 11, 2021, seven people infected with the outbreak strain of Listeria monocytogenes have been reported from four states (see map). Illnesses started on dates ranging from October 20, 2020, to January 22, 2021, with six recent illnesses in 2021 (see timeline).

The true number of sick people in an outbreak is likely higher than the number reported, and the outbreak may not be limited to the states with known illnesses. This is because some people recover without medical care and are not tested for Listeria. In addition, recent illnesses may not yet be reported as it usually takes 2 to 4 weeks to determine if a sick person is part of an outbreak.

Sick people range in age from 45 to 75 years, with a median age of 61. Six people are Hispanic, and 43% are female. All seven people have been hospitalized. No deaths have been reported.

State and local public health officials are interviewing people about the foods they ate in the month before they got sick. Of the four people interviewed, three reported eating at least one type of Hispanic-style fresh and soft cheeses and all three reported eating queso fresco. Public health officials are continuing to interview sick people to try to identify a specific type or brand of cheese.

Public health investigators are using the PulseNet system to identify illnesses that may be part of this outbreak. CDC PulseNet manages a national database of DNA fingerprints of bacteria that cause foodborne illnesses. DNA fingerprinting is performed on bacteria using a method called whole genome sequencing (WGS).

WGS showed that bacteria from sick people’s samples are closely related genetically. This means that people in this outbreak likely got sick from the same food.

State officials are testing samples of Hispanic-style fresh and soft cheeses that they collected from stores where sick people report purchasing cheeses from.

CDC is advising people at higher risk for severe Listeria illness to not eat Hispanic-style fresh and soft cheeses (like queso fresco) until we learn more and to contact their healthcare provider right away if they have any symptoms of severe Listeria illness after eating Hispanic-style fresh and soft .