The chief executive officer of a Norwegian company linked to a Listeria outbreak has insisted it takes comprehensive action to tackle the pathogen.

Comments from Henning Beltestad, CEO of Lerøy Seafood Group, come after scrutiny of the Lerøy Midt slaughterhouse and the Norwegian Food Safety Authority’s (Mattilsynet) follow-up on Listeria control.

Citing a notification to the company from the Norwegian Food Safety Authority, Norwegian broadcaster NRK said Listeria had been detected 700 times in the production environment at the salmon slaughterhouse from August 2022 to November 2023.

“In our operations, we have always focused on minimizing the occurrence of Listeria and providing accurate and comprehensive information to our customers and public authorities. We have an integrated value chain for salmon production, which gives us the best conditions to ensure safe and healthy products for consumers,” said Beltestad.

Deadly Swedish outbreak

A Listeria outbreak was declared over in Sweden in August 2023. It affected 19 people aged 63 to 93, including 13 men and six women. People started falling sick in September 2022, but 15 cases occurred from the end of May 2023.

Seven people died. However, it was unclear what role listeriosis played in their death because most patients had other severe underlying diseases.

Fourteen patients had eaten some type of salmon from one of two different brands. Both brands are produced by the same company and Listeria was detected in products and samples in the company’s facility, according to Folkhälsomyndigheten (the Public Health Agency of Sweden).

Analysis from food, the factory and patients showed it was the same variant. The same type of Listeria was also detected in a couple of different lots of salmon raw material from a slaughterhouse in Norway.

Beltestad said it has several measures in place to prevent Listeria in raw materials and finished products.

Action taken when positives found

The company’s sampling program covers surfaces in the factory, raw materials, and finished products. Lerøy Midt said it conducts between 8,000 and 10,000 samples annually in the factory and on equipment.

“Our strategy is to search and find, and then take action. With such extensive sampling, Listeria will be found over a period, which is natural as it is present everywhere in the environment around us,” said Beltestad.

“When Listeria is detected on fish, actions are taken, and non-conformance reporting is carried out. Although the regulations do not specify any obligation to notify for a raw material supplier like Lerøy Midt, Lerøy also has its own procedure for information to the next level, ensuring food safety.”

Lerøy said it has a detailed system for daily cleaning and disinfection of production facilities and non-conformance handling. It has also worked with an equipment supplier to design machines that are easier to clean, to reduce the risk of Listeria occurrence.

“Lerøy produces five million meals every day, sold to over 80 countries. In the entire year 2023, we had only three recalls of small product batches. This demonstrates that our control measures are effective, and Lerøy produces safe food every day, all year round,” said Beltestad.

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