Important Lessons About Listeria From Jensen Farms Case

September 30, 2013, Elis Owens, Ph.D., Senior Chemist / Microbiologist
Elis Owens, Ph.D. Chemist / Microbiologist

The recent news out of Colorado is that the Jensen brothers, Eric and Ryan, the owner-operators of Jensen Farms, are to face criminal charges.  FDA and CDC investigations determined that Jensen Farms was the source of the Listeria-contaminated cantaloupe that killed 33 and sickened over 100 in 2011. It is sad to think that an effective cleaning and sanitation program could have gone a long way toward preventing this tragedy from occurring.

Listeria is a common organism occurring naturally in the soil and is one of the major pathogens of concern for food processors especially those producing ready-to-eat items such as deli meats and fresh-cut produce. Producers of deli meats and similar products have a major advantage over produce processors in that the manufacturing process for RTE meat products has a lethality step. This is usually a cooking step, which, if carried out correctly, ensures the elimination of Listeria from the product.  For RTE processors, the challenge then is protecting the cooked product from recontamination during slicing and packaging operations. Help comes from lactates and similar substances that can be included as ingredients to inhibit the growth of Listeria in the finished product.

Produce processors do not have the assistance of a kill step; therefore they need to be extra diligent about the cleaning and sanitation of their processing facilities and equipment. They also need to ensure that they are using antimicrobial washes at appropriate points in their process to remove pathogens and prevent cross contamination. Birko is ready, willing and able to help with these steps.  A common complaint that we hear when discussing these options with processors is “but it costs so much to do all this stuff.” However, the news about Jensen Farms may put a different perspective on that thought.

Posted in: Produce | Comments (2)

2 Responses to “Important Lessons About Listeria From Jensen Farms Case”

#3682 | September 30th, 2013 | Albert Lee

RTE food preparation is probably the most important opportunity for re-contaminating the food. Cleaning & sanitizing food contact surfaces, cutting equipment, boards and personal hygiene are the most important recognized steps to prevent cross contamination with Listeria. The last defense is the use of approved sanitizers for direct application onto the food. Various peracids are approved for treating RTE foods. It is the last defense.

#3684 | October 1st, 2013 | aaron brown

Dr. Owens,

Thanks for the insightful comments. You may be interested to know that we have an upcoming webinar on Listeria presented by Dr. Keith Warriner from the University of Guelph on October 10th. Here’s a link to the abstract:

Contact me if interested in attending and I will provide you with a pass.

aaron brown

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