Tom Karst of The Packer writes it doesn’t seem quite right that many fresh produce processors aren’t testing for listeria on food contact surfaces in their facilities. Aren’t belts and other parts of a processing plant that touch product an important place to look for pathogens that might be present on food?
Yet, that is the way it is, based on industry’s evaluation of Food and Drug Administration Guidance. Because any finding of listeria on food contact surfaces could result in an immediate recall situation, many in the industry believe the FDA’s zero-tolerance policy inhibits companies from testing food contact surfaces.
The FDA is considering changing some of their guidance on listeria testing. Industry experts a new version of the guidance by late this year or early next year. Perhaps the FDA will give more flexibility for companies to test for the listeria species – indicating the presence of the family of bacteria, but not necessarily the dangerous Listeria monocytogenes strain. Perhaps the FDA will establish a tolerance level for Listeria monocytogenes, though that doesn’t seem likely.
Karst got some standard answers from government spokesthingies, but got a more proactive answer from Martin Bucknavage, a Pennsylvania State University Department of Food Science food safety extension specialist, who said fresh produce and other food companies have to do a better job of understanding the presence of listeria within their operations and take stronger corrective actions. Most of the testing now being done for listeria is pre-operational and on nonfood contact areas, which he said has limited use.
“They have got to get more proactive and get rid of it,” he said. “I think it is time to batten down the hatches, get aggressive on sampling and put this thing to bed.”