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Assessment of Microbial Populations in the Manufacture of Vacuum-Packaged Ready-to-Eat Roast Beef and in a Related Production Plant

Baccalli, Matteo Paolo, Picozzi, Claudia, Mangieri, Nicola, Vigentini, Ileana, Foschino, Roberto
Journal of food protection 2019 v.82 no.1 pp. 58-64
Escherichia coli, International Organization for Standardization, Listeria monocytogenes, beef, business enterprises, cold storage, cross contamination, detection limit, floors, food contact surfaces, microbiological criteria, microbiological risk assessment, most probable number technique, polymerase chain reaction, protocols, raw meat, ready-to-eat foods, shelf life, species identification, vacuum packaging
Some microbiological criteria were monitored for 6 months in vacuum-packaged roast beef (15 production batches), raw beef (10 batches), and other meat products (12 batches) produced in an Italian small to medium-size enterprise. Fifty-five environmental swab samples also were analyzed. The main bacterial groups were identified by cultural methods according to International Organization for Standardization standards. Listeria monocytogenes was enumerated with the most-probable-number protocol, and species identification was confirmed with a specific PCR assay. Immediately after vacuum packaging, all ready-to-eat (RTE) products had low mean aerobic colony counts (<10(2) to 2.4 × 10(2) CFU g−1), anaerobic colony counts (1.6 to 6.5 × 10(1) CFU g−1), Enterobacteriaceae counts (1.1 to 1.4 × 10(1) CFU g(−1)), and Escherichia coli counts (generally below the detection limit). Nevertheless, the prevalence of L. monocytogenes in these samples was 3.7%. In roast beef samples, the aerobic and anaerobic colony counts reached unacceptable levels (>1(0)6 CFU g−1) after 14 days of refrigerated storage. Because the prevalence of L. monocytogenes increased to 13.3% during storage, a substantial reduction in the shelf life of these products is recommended. Surfaces without direct contact with food (floors and drains) had the highest mean counts for aerobic colonies (8.0 × 10(3) to 9.5 × 10(5) CFU/cm2), anaerobic colonies (2.9 × 10(3) to 3.2 × 10(4) CFU/cm2), Enterobacteriaceae (1.5 × 10(1) to 8.4 × 10(1) CFU/cm2), and E. coli (6.0 to 7.7 CFU/cm(2)). The levels of L. monocytogenes on direct food contact surfaces were below the detection limit, but more than 25% of floor samples were contaminated. These results reveal the persistence of L. monocytogenes in food processing environments, although at very low levels, posing a high risk of postcooking recontamination for RTE products. To improve hygienic conditions and reduce cross-contamination, an increase in operator awareness and a reassessment of surface sanitization protocols are needed.