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Development and Validation of Pathogen Environmental Monitoring Programs for Small Cheese Processing Facilities

Beno, Sarah M., Stasiewicz, Matthew J., Andrus, Alexis D., Ralyea, Robert D., Kent, David J., Martin, Nicole H., Wiedmann, Martin, Boor, Kathryn J.
Journal of food protection 2016 v.79 no.12 pp. 2095-2106
Listeria monocytogenes, Salmonella, cheesemaking, environmental monitoring, farms, food processing plants, models, pathogens, pulsed-field gel electrophoresis, ready-to-eat foods
Pathogen environmental monitoring programs (EMPs) are essential for food processing facilities of all sizes that produce ready-to-eat food products exposed to the processing environment. We developed, implemented, and evaluated EMPs targeting Listeria spp. and Salmonella in nine small cheese processing facilities, including seven farmstead facilities. Individual EMPs with monthly sample collection protocols were designed specifically for each facility. Salmonella was detected in only one facility, with likely introduction from the adjacent farm indicated by pulsed-field gel electrophoresis data. Listeria spp. were isolated from all nine facilities during routine sampling. The overall Listeria spp. (other than Listeria monocytogenes) and L. monocytogenes prevalences in the 4,430 environmental samples collected were 6.03 and 1.35%, respectively. Molecular characterization and subtyping data suggested persistence of a given Listeria spp. strain in seven facilities and persistence of L. monocytogenes in four facilities. To assess routine sampling plans, validation sampling for Listeria spp. was performed in seven facilities after at least 6 months of routine sampling. This validation sampling was performed by independent individuals and included collection of 50 to 150 samples per facility, based on statistical sample size calculations. Two of the facilities had a significantly higher frequency of detection of Listeria spp. during the validation sampling than during routine sampling, whereas two other facilities had significantly lower frequencies of detection. This study provides a model for a science- and statistics-based approach to developing and validating pathogen EMPs.