New non-binding guidance for reducing the risk to vulnerable groups from contracting listeriosis was released Tuesday for the United Kingdom by the country’s Food Standards Agency. The guidance applies directly to England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, and it is also being promoted by the independent Food Standards Scotland through its website. The guidance is for health care and social service organizations housing vulnerable populations with the potential for contracting Listeria and other foodborne illnesses. The 43-page document is entitled, “Reducing the Risk of Vulnerable Groups Contracting Listeriosis: Guidance for Healthcare and Social Care Organizations.” To reduce the risk, the guidance document focuses on preventing, controlling and limiting the opportunity for Listeria monocytogenes to grow. Health and social services agencies providing food services in the U.K. are required to have Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) plans in place to identify and control food safety hazards. They must also consider food safety in light of populations with specific health sensitivities. Local authority environmental health departments and food safety teams are available to provide help and advice. The guidance did not include food designed to be cooked and served hot, frozen foods, food for newborns, and food for medical purchase. Targets for the guidance are the National Health Services Trusts, private hospitals, nursing homes, residential care homes, assisted living facilities and the like. It suggests that successful control and prevention of Listeria monocytogenes infection among vulnerable populations is going to require cooperation from caterers, nursing home managers, dietitians, nurses, retail managers, and numerous others. The report describes Listeria as being a “relatively rare” bacterium, and that infection usually has “mild flu-like symptoms.” But some associated outbreaks have ended with a fatality rate of 20-40 percent. Listeria can be found in vegetation, some foods, soil, water, and in animal feces. It is also known to thrive in food processing environments. It is able to attach to surfaces and adhere together within a slime-like substance to form usually invisible biofilms. Listeria has the potential to grow slowly at low temperatures, including refrigerated temperatures. It can also survive freezing and is salt-tolerant. Foods that have been associated with Listeria outbreaks in the U.K. include smoked fish, cooked shellfish paté, cooked meats and poultry, cured meats, unpasteurized cheeses, sandwiches, prepared salads, and cut fruits, including melons. “There is the potential for chilled RTE (ready-to-eat) foods to present an increased risk to vulnerable groups and effective controls of L. monocytogenes must be applied and appropriately managed,” states the guidance document. Key sources of Listeria monocytogenes contamination are dirt and soil, food handlers, raw foods, equipment and utensils, condensation from air chilling units, drainage ways and galleys, and areas with pooling water. “Effective control for personal hygiene, cleaning and disinfection and cross-contamination controls” are also provided in the document. It includes good practices for personal hygiene and cleaning and disinfection. Two-stage cleaning and disinfection methods are suggested, along with some chemicals known for being effective in destroying Listeria monocytogenes.
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