Listeria in ready-to-eat products shows measurable decline

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The Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service has released data showing a one-year, 25 percent decrease in the percentage of Listeria monocytogenes-positive samples, and a 70 percent decline compared with years prior to the implementation of the hazard analysis and critical control point system. L monocytogenes can be dangerous for pregnant women, young children, and the elderly.

Of the random samples the FSIS collected and analyzed between Jan. 1 and Sept. 30, 2003, 0.75 percent tested positive for L monocytogenes, compared with 1.03 percent in 2002. In 1995, 3.02 percent tested positive for the bacteria. FSIS collects about 7,500 samples of ready-to-eat meat and poultry products per year.

In November 2002, the FSIS announced it would begin intensified testing at plants that produced high- and medium-risk, ready-to-eat products that did not conduct environmental testing to prevent these bacteria or did not voluntarily share their environmental testing data. Plants that did not voluntarily choose to share their environmental testing data with the agency would be subject to the intensified testing program.

This past summer, the FSIS issued a rule that established levels of scrutiny at plants, depending on what they produced and the type of control measures used. The rule also encouraged plants to install new technologies to eliminate or reduce L monocytogenes' growth.

In July 2003, the USDA also announced a series of new, science-based initiatives to better understand, predict, and prevent microbiologic contamination of meat and poultry products, overall. Those initiatives can be found in "Enhancing public health: strategies for the future,"