Listeria advice

March 12th, 2013

East Midlands food businesses are being given guidance on safeguarding against a food-poisoning bacterium.

According to data from the Food Standards Agency (FSA) serious cases of laboratory-confirmed listeria infection in the UK almost doubled between 2000 and 2009. In 2010 numbers decreased but there is still a concern since the infection, although relatively rare, causes more deaths from food poisoning in the UK than other food-borne bacteria.

Scientists at the University’s School of Biosciences are working with the food hygiene specialists, Diversey, to tackle the issue, thanks to a research and development grant from the Food and Drink iNet, part of the trade organisation The Food and Drink Forum.

Dr Cath Rees, from the University’s Division of Food Sciences, said: “Listeria in humans is exclusively a food-borne disease. Despite research we cannot explain the increase in numbers seen in the UK and this has led the Food Standards Agency to identify this bacterium as a priority area for action. The biology of this bacterium makes it very difficult to control both in raw ingredients and in food production areas. Our research has been focusing on how best to clean equipment to keep this bacterium out of the food chain, and we are sharing our results with the food industry.”

Serious infection tends to occur only in people with reduced immunity, such as the over-60s, pregnant women, newborn babies and those undergoing long term treatments.

As the elderly and those with weakened immune systems are particularly at risk, the FSA is targeting food provision in the NHS as well as examining how these vulnerable groups store and handle food.

The campaign is also targeting small and medium sized food manufacturers, distributors and retailers of chilled, ready-to-eat products to help reduce the risk of infection. Tests have shown most incidents of listeria have involved chilled ready-to-eat meats, meat products, cheese, fish and shellfish as well as sandwiches and sandwich fillings.

As part of the project, a seminar at the University’s Sutton Bonington campus gave small and medium-sized businesses in the chilled food sector guidance and advice about how to manage the risk of listeria.

It included a food industry update by Dr Rees. Dr Karen Middleton, from Diversey, discussed good hygiene practices before Dr Jerry Avis gave an introduction to the University’s Food and Biofuel Innovation Centre.

Food and Drink iNet director Richard Worrall said: “It is important that food businesses are able to play their part in tackling the increase in cases of listeriosis.”

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