The need for self-control programs concerning Listeria monocytogenes

Listeriosis is a severe bacterial infectious disease caused mainly by contaminated food. Therefore, food producers must take protective measures to ensure their products' quality and safety. As part of a nationwide inspection conducted by Swiss authorities, investigative efforts were carried out in over 100 food businesses to assess the fulfillment of their obligations. The findings revealed urgency for improvement. 

Anyone who manufactures, handles, stores, transports, places on the market, imports, exports, or transports foodstuffs or commodities must ensure that the legal requirements are met. Food companies are required to self-monitor, which refers to continuously ensuring hygiene and safety standards are met. Official controls by local authorities will not only perform controls but investigate whether self-monitoring is adequately carried out. 

In recent years, the control authorities have identified various gaps in the self-control of food businesses regarding the pathogen Listeria monocytogenes. As a result, food products contaminated with this pathogen have entered the Swiss market several times, causing outbreaks with several cases of illness and even death.

Two-thirds of the inspected establishments show deficiencies

During a national campaign, 115 companies were inspected between February and August 2021 to assess whether they carried out self-monitoring concerning Listeria monocytogenes as legally obliged. The focus was placed on more extensive industrial operations, particularly those requiring a permit and producing products such as cheese, ready-to-eat meat products, ready-to-eat salad/shoots, or smoked fish products, among others, for export.

Two-thirds (65%) of the establishments did not comply with the food law requirements, and complaints had to be issued. The most frequent deficiencies were in infrastructure, production hygiene, or the control of the production environment. Criminal charges were filed on the occasion of three inspections.

Key takeaways

  • Two-thirds of the inspected farms had deficiencies in implementing self-monitoring concerning L. monocytogenes. This is in line with the pilot campaign in the Regio Gottardo in 2020 (complaint rate 68 %).
  • In one-third of all farms, fundamental measures of good hygienic practice are not sufficiently implemented.
  • Almost one-third of all farms have no or insufficient environmental monitoring. There is an urgent need for action here so farms can identify and control the risk from L. monocytogenes early.
  • Every fifth farm shows deficiencies in sample planning and analysis incl. in the definition of food safety criteria.
  • In every tenth controlled company, the danger posed by L. monocytogenes is not recognized and not evaluated in the HACCP. This also applies to source products and raw materials.
  • 10% of the establishments show deficiencies in the take-back/recall concept and/or traceability.

Potential for improvement in operational self-monitoring

The national campaign results show deficiencies in the implementation of self-control regarding the pathogen Listeria monocytogenes. 10% of the controlled companies did not sufficiently recognize the danger posed by this germ and consequently did not classify their products adequately according to the food law requirements.

The high rate of complaints shows a clear potential for improvement in operational self-monitoring. The areas of sample planning and analysis, as well as environmental monitoring, need to be improved. Where resources or know-how are not available in the company, it is recommended to use the support of private service and product providers.

A new rapid test for a reliable Listeria monocytogenes monitoring directly on-site

NEMIS has recognized that current self-monitoring methods are not sufficient.  They are either too expensive, too slow, not precise enough or difficult to handle. A solution enabling more frequent and early on-site screening throughout the entire production environment can enable much faster interventions.

NEMIS has reinvented the detection of pathogenic bacteria and enables the very same approach which has demonstrated to be efficient during the recent pandemic: complete control through rapid tests directly on-site to take adequate measures quickly. Whether you rely on an external service provider or use an in-house laboratory, the N-Light™ Listeria monocytogenes offers both a competitive and complementary approach. Waiting for results from outside laboratories can take up to five days. The NEMIS rapid test allows the implementation of initial measures after only 24 hours and a significant increase in the number of tests performed, all with the same budget. On the other hand, by detecting live bacteria, the approach also complements existing PCR testing programs. Furthermore, since the test can be performed on-site without formal training, the number of samples and timing can be flexibly chosen according to specific and immediate needs.

If you are interested in bringing your self-monitoring to the next level, schedule a product demonstration today.

 

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