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Microbiological Safety of Retail Vacuum-Packed and Modified-Atmosphere-Packed Cooked Meats at End of Shelf Life

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Abstract:

A study of retail modified-atmosphere-packed and vacuum-packed cooked ready-to-eat meats was undertaken from September through mid-November 2003 to determine the microbiological quality at the end of shelf life and to establish any risk factors in the production, storage, and display of this product. Examination of 2,981 samples using Microbiological Guidelines criteria revealed that 66% were of satisfactory or acceptable microbiology quality, 33% were of unsatisfactory quality mainly due to high aerobic colony counts and Enterobacteriaceae concentrations, and 1% were of unacceptable quality due to the presence of Listeria monocytogenes at 100 CFU/g or higher (27 samples; range of 102 to 106 CFU/g) and Campylobacter jejuni (1 sample), indicating a risk to health. All samples at the end of the shelf life had satisfactory (<20 CFU/g) and/or acceptable (<102 CFU/g) levels of Staphylococcus aureus and Clostridium perfringens, four samples (<1%) had unsatisfactory levels of Escherichia coli (range of 102 to 106 CFU/g) and 5.5% of the samples contained L. monocytogenes at 20 CFU/g (4.8%) or between 20 and 100 CFU/g (0.7%). More samples of chicken (45%; 224 of 495 samples), beef (43%; 160 of 371 samples), and turkey (41%; 219 of 523 samples) were of unsatisfactory or unacceptable quality compared with ham (23%; 317 of 1,351 samples) or pork (32%; 67 of 206 samples). Twelve different L. monocytogenes typing characters (serotype–amplified fragment length polymorphism type–phage type) were evaluated for isolates recovered from samples of unacceptable quality, and the 1/2-IX-NT type was recovered from almost half (48%) of these samples. Salmonella was not detected in any samples examined. Risk factors identified for cooked meats that were microbiologically contaminated more frequently included vacuum packaging, packaging on retail premises, slicing, temperature not monitored in display units, and no hazard analysis system in place. Results from this study also suggest that the shelf life assigned to some modified-atmosphere-packed and vacuum-packed meats may not be appropriate.

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Department of Gastrointestinal Infections, Centre for Infections, Health Protection Agency, London NW9 5EQ, United Kingdom 2: Food and Environmental Microbiology Services North West, Preston Microbiology Services, Royal Preston Hospital, Preston PR2 9HG, United Kingdom

Publication date: April 1, 2007

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