A system in Hungary to prevent a repeat of the deadly Listeria outbreak traced to a frozen vegetable factory in the country in 2018 is working well, according to those involved.

The Hungarian Deep Freezing and Canning Association (MHKSZ) revealed the first-year operational experience of the system was positive.

After the outbreak source was found nearly a year and a half ago, some members of MHKSZ and Campden BRI Hungary Nonprofit Ltd. developed a voluntary audited Listeria Prevention System. It includes Listeria troubleshooting, identifying potential contaminant sources and focal points as well as possible routes of contamination.

Outbreak source and audit
In 2018, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) linked frozen corn from Hungary to a Listeria monocytogenes outbreak in five EU member states.

Greenyard’s frozen vegetable factory in Baju was the source of the Listeria outbreak that sickened 54 people in six countries, killing 10 of them. The outbreak is thought to have started in 2015. Implicated frozen products were distributed to 116 countries. In June 2019, Greenyard sold the plant to Roger & Roger, a producer of potato and corn snacks.

A DG Sante audit in May 2019 was critical of Hungarian authorities for not strengthening the system of official controls for food businesses despite the outbreak.

Official controls and enforcement would not help prevent further Listeria monocytogenes contamination in frozen food of non-animal origin, or limit the risk of non-compliant products being placed on the market, according to the audit report.

Positive results from year one
Introducing and efficiently operating the Listeria Prevention System can reduce the risk of Listeria monocytogenes in traditional frozen vegetables and fruit products based on results from the first year, according to MHKSZ.

The risk of Listeria monocytogenes in the environment has been reduced for MHKSZ members who have properly applied the system requirements. With presence in the ready-to-market product only rarely detected and often below the limits permitted by regulation.

The system also includes assistance to design a sampling plan, hygienic factory design and cleaning, sanitation and disinfection help. It is based on requirements in EU Regulation No 852/2004.

MHKSZ advises that quick-frozen vegetables should be cooked before consumption and consumers should follow the instructions for use on the packaging.

Participating companies will continue work with it in the current season and other firms have indicated an intention to join the Listeria Prevention System.

MHKSZ is also a member of Profel (European Association of Fruit and Vegetable Processors) and AETMD (European Association of Transformers of Sweetcorn).

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