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Going back to basics: Listeria control

Refocusing on the basics for controlling Listeria

The recent tragic deaths we have seen from the Listeria outbreak in hospital sandwiches should be taken as a prompt for us all to refocus on the basics. The control of Listeria relies on many individual elements of prerequisites and GMP, which must all be robustly implemented and verified to ensure their effectiveness.

With an ever-increasing pace of change within our industry, coupled with ambitious targets around issues such as plastic and sugar reduction, the necessary focus on the real core basics can be easily lost or blurred.

The PRP pot gets bigger

A concern of mine for some time has been the significant volume of prerequisite programmes and the heavy reliance we place on these, especially with the reduction in CCPs we have seen over recent years. Having lived and breathed HACCP for many years, I totally agree that the number of CCPs should have reduced and it’s good to see the back of the many spurious CCPs we used to commonly see. However, it does mean that the majority of the controls for significant hazards are now encompassed in the PRPs, and run the risk of being ‘lost’ amongst the volume. I’d put money on the fact that most of your audit non-conformances are raised against PRPs & GMP and not CCPs, we are generally good at HACCP now as there is far less to focus on!

Controlling Listeria

Controlling Listeria isn’t easy. This versatile and durable genus has proved challenging for even the most technically astute food manufacturers. A thorough understanding of its nature and behaviour is the vital first step, this can be difficult for smaller businesses with limited technical expertise.

Controls for Listeria draw on many of these PRPs including;

  • Hygiene & housekeeping – efficacy & validation of cleaning methods & deep cleans, cleaning practices to avoid splashes and aerosols, key inspection points, understanding of biofilms
  • Fabrication standards – suitable surfaces, maintenance of surfaces such as floors and drains
  • Design of equipment – easy to clean, avoiding areas where Listeria could establish & persist
  • People and equipment flows – controlling vehicles for transferring Listeria (trolley wheels, footwear, cleaning equipment, engineers tools etc)
  • Environmental monitoring – looking in the right places, Listeria hotspots, analysing and reacting to the data, understanding the difference between persistent strains and repeated isolations, effective root cause when necessary
  • Internal auditing – robust verification of the relevant PRPs with timely corrective and preventive actions
  • Training – clearly explaining the significant, positive contribution employees can make to the control of Listeria
  • Food safety culture – the accepted behaviours and current norm, the reaction to both positive and negative food safety behaviours and the persistent reinforcement of a consistent food safety message

A stark reminder

In the case of the Good Food Chain, they were totally dependent on their supplier for the safety of the cooked meats supplied for use in their sandwiches. This is a stark reminder of the potential, catastrophic consequences of supplier failure. Even though the FSA confirmed that the Good Food Chain was not the source of the outbreak, they still went into liquidation with the loss of 125 jobs. How much do we know about what’s actually happening inside our supplying sites? Have we directed our, often limited, supplier management resource to the right places? Are we asking the right questions? We might all have the correct elements in place for a decent due diligence defence but the media attention and resulting brand damage often pay little regard to this.

It is not my intention to be a doom and gloom merchant! But just to highlight the need for us all to take the time, in our very busy worlds, to revaluate our thinking and systems in light of these tragic events and not to lose focus on the basics.

How can we help?

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