Avoiding Deli Dangers

To satisfy the demands of today’s grab-and-go lifestyle, retail delicatessens have been expanding their ready-to-eat (RTE) sandwich offerings. With this increase in variety comes an increased risk for cross contamination, because many different types of meat are frequently sliced using the same slicer. Many delis are also open environments with multiple employees involved in food handling, which significantly compounds this risk.

The most pervasive food safety risk in any retail deli is Listeria monocytogenes bacteria, which are found nearly everywhere in nature. When introduced into a food-handling area, these bacteria can survive and grow in even the smallest nooks and crannies. Unlike most pathogenic bacteria, Listeria can grow and multiply even at refrigerated temperatures, which makes prevention and eradication especially challenging.

Listeriosis, an infection caused by the Listeria monocytogenes bacteria, is responsible for more fatalities than any other foodborne pathogen, including Salmonella and Clostridium botulinum (known for creating botulism). At-risk consumers for Listeriosis include the elderly, pregnant women, infants and people whose immune systems have been compromised.

A recent risk assessment by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) found there is no single preventive practice to protect against Listeria contamination in retail deli environments. But by employing a combination of several best practices, the risk for contamination can be greatly reduced. These best practices include:

Maintaining proper temperatures
Storing food at the proper temperature significantly reduces risk. Always store ready-to-eat items at or below 41 degrees Fahrenheit.

Selecting deli meats that include microbial growth inhibitors
The addition of growth inhibitors during processing can eliminate as many as 96 out of every 100 cases of Listeriosis at the retail level.

Preventing cross contamination
Maintaining proper cleaning and personal hygiene procedures makes a remarkable difference.

Listeria contamination poses a serious health risk to consumers. That is why Sysco is committed to the highest level of Listeria control for all Sysco brand refrigerated RTE ham and deli meats.

Sysco requires that all hams include ingredients to inhibit Listeria growth. This is an important component because, once products are delivered by Sysco, the handling, slicing and storage is out of Sysco’s control. Growth-inhibiting ingredients include cultured sugar, buffered vinegar and lactates.

As a final safeguard, Sysco requires that all hams and deli products undergo a post-lethality treatment after being cooked and chilled. This treatment occurs during the final packaging process to eliminate any Listeria that may have accidently contaminated the product during preparation.

Food safety is a top priority at Sysco, especially when it comes to dangerous pathogens such as Listeria monocytogenes. While implementing the best practices outlined above can reduce the risk associated with deli meats, purchasing from reputable suppliers who require inhibitors and interventions will decrease that risk even more. Statistics show that if the current levels of Listeria in ready-to-eat foods received by retail delis from processing establishments were reduced by half, the Listeriosis risk could be cut by as much as 22 percent. At Sysco, we think that’s worth the extra effort any way you slice it.

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