Saturday, April 13, 2013
HOW DID LISTERIA BACTERIA GET INTO DELI MEATS?
Food recalls because of Listeria monocytogenes bacteria occur all the time in the U.S. It is one of the most commonly occurring "bad" bacteria in cheeses, other dairy products, ready-to-eat products such as pizzas and meat spreads, breaded chicken breasts, and deli meats. The large majority of these events never get into the news. But now one has, simply because the recall is so huge. Almost half a million pounds of various deli meats are being recalled by Manda Packing Company, located in Baker, Louisiana.
Like many food recalls, this one has expanded from the initial smaller recall. Products involved now include roast beef, ham, turkey breast, tasso pork, ham shanks, hog head cheese, corned beef, and pastrami. There is an array of brands and deli meats - too long to list in this post. But if you want more information check the FSIS/USDA site on www.fsis.usda.gov/News_&_Events/Recall_028_2013_Expanded/index.asp).
So how did this meat get contaminated? The chances are, that the bacteria did not enter in the slaughterhouse. They entered in the processing or packing plant itself, perhaps through contaminated equipment or areas. Or, through the workers in the plant.
When doing research for The Safe Food Handbook I was horrified to find that it is now believed that as many as 30 percent of meat plant workers carry this bacterium.
Listeria monocytogenes is a great survivor. It can survive, and even multiply in the refrigerator, where deli meats are stored. They could be multiplying during transport and in the store, even before the products reach to you. And, increase their numbers right in your own home, even when you are storing them correctly.
Don't think that the U.S. government isn't trying to fix the problem. In fact, both the U.S. and Canadian governments have taken measures over past years to find ways of controlling this deadly bacterium - especially in meat processing plants. But obviously, these measures do not always work. Large recalls of meat products still occur every year in both countries because of Listeria.
Yes, pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems are at special risk of Listeriosis. Healthy people may just get a light case, or have no symptoms at all.
There is much more information on this bacterium and on previous related food recalls on this blog. At least 105 posts mention Listeria monocytogenes in food, and 66 posts have special information for pregnant women, including the most popular post on this blog "Foods Pregnant Women Should Not Eat" which has been read by just over 18,000 people so far. You'll see deli meats on the "beware" list. But, there is a way for pregnant women (and anyone else at high risk) to eat them safely.
To your good health,