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New course bridges Listeria skills gap

22 February 2016

Many within the chilled ready-to-eat food sector looks with a degree of trepidation at their own operation when an outbreak of listeriosis in the US last year forced a multistate recall of Blue Bell ice cream products. 

The US outbreak left 10 in hospital and three dead. For the company, was a public relations disaster and left the CEO Paul Kruse “heartbroken”.

The outbreak was linked to Listeria, or L. monocytogenes pathogens that had allegedly come from failure to clean plant equipment and surfaces. 

According to the UK’s Food Standards Agency in 2013: “L. monocytogenes is responsible for the largest number of deaths from foodborne disease in the UK and has been identified as a key pathogen requiring action by the Agency.”

A report by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) last year found that is the number of confirmed cases of listeriosis rose in 2014 by 16 per cent over the previous year, to 2,161.

It has a mortality rate of 20-30 per cent, with pregnant women, the young and elderly especially at risk.

This year, the FSA will iron out and implement a Listeria reduction campaign and it has been highlighted as an “area for attention” in the Agency’s 2015-2020 strategic plan. 

Industries particularly at risk are those dealing with chilled ready-to-eat food, like cooked sliced meat, smoked fish, cooked shellfish, or soft mould-ripened cheeses. 

For a business, having to carry out a recall because of listeriosis can put the company’s image back years and potentially lose millions. 

Bridging the skills gap

Aside from keeping chilled food within the correct temperature parameters and regularly sanitising surfaces, floors and drains, one of the most crucial aspects in combatting the spread of the bacteria lies in training. Several companies have launched nationally accredited courses designed targeted specifically toward tackling 

Holchem, the hygiene skills provider, has launched a two-day Level 3 Listeria Management course. The standalone course is aimed at hygiene, technical, engineering and production managers directly involved in the day-to-day management of Listeria within the food industry.

“We are passionately focussed on providing training and support that we know is essential in helping our industry to manage their hygiene needs,” said the Holcham technical director, Dr John Holah.  “Our key focus is to not only implement a 'control and management' plan but to help those on the front-line tackling Listeria - prevent its entry into critical food management zones.”

Similarly, the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health offers a one day workshop entitled ‘Microbiological Criteria for Food with an emphasis on Listeria monocytogenes’, which is free for local authority Environmental Health practitioners. 

The good thing about courses like these is that they empower a senior member of staff as an agent for change within a business in order to improve processes and prevent an outbreak. 

The right tools

Another aspect to lowering risk of contamination is in shoring up the machinery used in the production process. Festo offers a course which covers this important aspect. 

“It’s important to get the design of a machine right from the start in order to mitigate risk,” said Andrew Macpherson, Industry Manager Food and Beverage, at Festo. 

“This starts by zoning the machine and designing accordingly to the latest hygienic design standards; selecting appropriate products along the way.  To do this requires not only automation skills, but knowledge of hygienic design standards such as EHEDG and HACCP, as well as good manufacturing practice. 

“Attending a course such as Modern Industrial Pneumatics – For the Food and Drink Industry is a way designers can ensure they stay abreast of the latest developments in this area.”

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