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By Stephen Sundlof, D.V.M., Ph.D., EAS Independent Advisor, Animal and Human Food Safety

FDA released updated draft guidance on preventive controls for Listeria monocytogenes in ready-to-eat foods last month, adopting the “seek and destroy” approach used by USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service.

Facilities that produce ready-to-eat foods that are regulated by both FDA and USDA will benefit from a uniform federal approach, the agency says.

As every food facility manager knows, the persistence of Lm in processing facilities – in hard-to-reach locations such as drains and ducts – presents a serious challenge for food safety personnel. The hardy pathogen can find its way onto food contact surfaces and can then contaminate the food products. To make matters worse, it survives refrigeration temperatures, so the only effective preventive measure is to keep Lm away from ready-to-eat foods.

The updated guidance includes recommended procedures for environmental sampling and schedules for routine cleaning and sanitizing. Generally, the agency recommends that food contact surfaces should be cleaned and sanitized at least once every 24 hours. But the schedule for any surface needs to be based on the characteristics of the products and processes, the agency says.

If you clean and sanitize less frequently than every 24 hours, you should validate the frequency of your cleaning and sanitizing by microbial testing and not allow the reduced frequency to impact the microbiological condition of the production equipment, it says. And if the results of environmental monitoring or product testing indicate a problem, you should consider increasing the frequency of cleaning and sanitizing as part of an overall corrective action procedure.

The updated guidance suggests that non-food-contact surfaces such as drains, floors, waste containers, cleaning tools — and any surfaces that have a greater potential to become a source of Lm contamination – should be cleaned and sanitized every day. This would include surfaces likely to be touched by personnel who touch the food products or food contact surfaces, or areas where there could be a build-up of moisture or product residues.

Other non-food-contact surfaces such as condensate drip pans, overhead piping, ceilings and walls, coolers, and HVAC systems should be cleaned and sanitized weekly or monthly, the agency says. Motor housings and external surfaces of enclosed processing systems should be cleaned and sanitized weekly. Freezers containing exposed ready-to-eat foods and the interiors of ice makers should be cleaned and sanitized semi-annually, the guidance recommends.

I believe that effective implementation of this Lm draft guidance in RTE facilities would go a long way to address one of the toughest food safety challenges. And the careful documentation of all these activities would show FDA inspectors the facilities are implementing all the necessary preventive measures.

Posted in EASeNews, Foods, FSMA Perspective and tagged .