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Listeria monocytogenes Contamination Patterns for the Smoked Fish Processing Environment and for Raw Fish

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Reliable data on the sources of Listeria monocytogenes contamination in cold-smoked fish processing are crucial in designing effective intervention strategies. Environmental samples (n = 512) and raw fish samples (n = 315) from two smoked fish processing facilities were screened for L. monocytogenes, and all isolates were subtyped by automated ribotyping to examine the relationship between L. monocytogenes contamination from raw materials and that from environmental sites. Samples were collected over two 8-week periods in early spring and summer. The five types of raw fish tested included lake whitefish, sablefish, farm-raised Norwegian salmon, farm-raised Chilean salmon, and feral (wild-caught) salmon from the U.S. West Coast. One hundred fifteen environmental samples and 46 raw fish samples tested positive for L. monocytogenes. Prevalence values for environmental samples varied significantly (P < 0.0001) between the two plants; plant A had a prevalence value of 43.8% (112 of 256 samples), and plant B had a value of 1.2% (3 of 256 samples). For plant A, 62.5% of drain samples tested positive for L. monocytogenes, compared with 32.3% of samples collected from other environmental sites and 3.1% of samples collected from food contact surfaces. Ribotyping identified 11 subtypes present in the plant environments. Multiple subtypes, including four subtypes not found on any raw fish, were found to persist in plant A throughout the study. Contamination prevalence values for raw fish varied from 3.6% (sablefish) to 29.5% (U.S. West Coast salmon), with an average overall prevalence of 14.6%. Sixteen separate L. monocytogenes subtypes were present on raw fish, including nine that were not found in the plant environment. Our results indicate a disparity between the subtypes found on raw fish and those found in the processing environment. We thus conclude that environmental contamination is largely separate from that of incoming raw materials and includes strains persisting, possibly for years, within the plant. Operational and sanitation procedures appear to have a significant impact on environmental contamination, with both plants having similar prevalence values for raw materials but disparate contamination prevalence values for the environmental sites. We also conclude that regular L. monocytogenes testing of drains, combined with molecular subtyping of the isolates obtained, allows for efficient monitoring of persistent L. monocytogenes contamination in a processing plant.


Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Department of Food Science, 412 Stocking Hall, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York 14853 2: New York Sea Grant, 146 Suffolk Hall, State University of New York at Stony Brook, Stony Brook, New York 11794, USA

Publication date: January 1, 2003

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    The Journal of Food Protection (JFP) is a refereed monthly publication. Each issue contains scientific research and authoritative review articles reporting on a variety of topics in food science pertaining to food safety and quality. The Journal is internationally recognized as the leading publication in the field of food microbiology with a readership exceeding 11,000 scientists from 70 countries. The Journal of Food Protection is indexed in Index Medicus, Current Contents, BIOSIS, PubMed, Medline, and many others.

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