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Expert Panel Analyzes Risk Based Approach to Fight Listeriosis

Thursday, October 20, 2005

An expert panel recently completed the most comprehensive risk-based review of effective strategies for combating the foodborne illness listeriosis and have identified specific types of foods, subpopulations and practices which increase a consumers’ risk of contracting the deadly illness. The expert panel was convened by the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI) and was was co-funded by several leading food organizations including the American Meat Institute Foundation (AMIF). Its findings were published in the September 2005 issue of The Journal of Food Protection. The expert panel convened by ILSI included leading authorities worldwide from academia, government, the public health community and industry.

The panel found that a “continuum of risk is observed in the human population,” ranging from very sensitive groups – pregnant, the elderly, and the immunocompromised – to members of the general population who appear to have minimal risk for the disease. “Identifying the groups most at risk for listeriosis, combined with the knowledge of which foods may bear a higher risk, is a giant step forward in educating the public in an ongoing effort to stamp out this illness,” said Dr. Randall Huffman, Vice President of Scientific Affairs at AMIF.

The panel identified several risk factors that placed subjects at higher risk for contracting listeriosis, primarily individuals with compromised immune systems, senior citizens and pregnant women. "The ILSI Research Foundation is very pleased to have had the opportunity to contribute to the resolution of this public health problem. This panel report represents a landmark accomplishment that establishes a new paradigm for addressing microbial foodborne hazards," said Dr. Suzanne Harris, Acting Executive Director.

The scientists also identified sub-population groups at elevated risk. For example, Hispanic women appear to be at a higher risk for listeriosis than Caucasian women. Additionally, the panel identified that some foods bear higher risk of contamination and warrant greater attention when formulating a Listeria control strategy.

Researchers offered three main strategies for continued reduction in listeriosis:
1. Preventing contamination in the packaging/processing process;
2. Inhibiting growth of the bacteria once the food is packaged and prior to consumption;
3. Science-based education for high risk groups and care-givers on safe food strategies.

The study concluded that diligent commitment by the food industry to fighting Listeria at multiple points in the manufacturing process, like safe and sanitary operational procedures, regular and intensive sampling procedures, careful time and temperature controls and approved post-packing anti-microbial methods are essential to improving Listeria contamination rates. “As an industry, we have made tremendous strides in reducing the occurrence of Listeria in ready to eat food products, yet we must continue our keen focus on these three strategies to continue the downward trends seen in foodborne Listeriosis in the U.S. We must include an emphasis on providing clear guidance to high risk individuals on healthy eating practices, food preparation and steps they can take to avoid this possibly fatal illness,” said Huffman. “And that education needs to start at a very young age,” he added.

For a copy of the report, click here: http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/iafp/jfp/2005/00000068/00000009/art00024

For more information contact:
David Ray
Vice President, Public Affairs
Janet Riley
Sr. Vice President, Public Affairs

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