Retail delicatessens and their food safety programs are the target of a year-long, nationwide pilot project that begins next week and seeks to determine whether best practices are being used to control Listeria monocytogenes. During a pre-pilot exercise from Dec. 8-15, 2015, inspectors visited 16 retail delis and found that retailers were not aware of federal best practices guidance on Listeria control that was published six months earlier. deli worker Slightly more than a third of the delis checked in December were not following the recommendations for product handling and cleaning and sanitizing, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety Inspection Service. “The pre-pilot also found that a higher percentage of retailers followed the facility and equipment controls and employee practices recommendations, 94 percent and 83 percent respectively,” FSIS reported. The full pilot project, set to begin Jan. 25, will not include test sampling for Listeria monocytogenes. FSIS compliance investigators will complete a questionnaire at each retail deli they visit that will be used to assess practices for:

  • product handling;
  • cleaning and sanitizing;
  • facility and equipment controls; and
  • employee practices.

Compliance investigators will discuss with retailers any vulnerabilities they observed during the survey, but FSIS will not ask the retail operators to complete the surveys, according to a USDA update on the project. FSIS will analyze the information from the pilot project on a quarterly basis and will post results on the FSIS website. Once the data from the pilot program is analyzed, FSIS plans to seek input from the National Advisory Committee on Meat and Poultry Inspection regarding next steps for controlling Listeria monocytogenes at retail.   (To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)