Mathematical model of Listeria monocytogenes cross-contamination in a fish processing plant.


Listeriosis is a foodborne disease caused by the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes. The food industry and government agencies devote considerable resources to reducing contamination of ready-to-eat foods with L. monocytogenes. Because inactivation treatments can effectively eliminate L. monocytogenes present on raw materials, postprocessing cross-contamination from the processing plant environment appears to be responsible for most L. monocytogenes food contamination events. An improved understanding of cross-contamination pathways is critical to preventing L. monocytogenes contamination. Therefore, a plant-specific mathematical model of L. monocytogenes cross-contamination was developed, which described the transmission of L. monocytogenes contamination among food, food contact surfaces, employees' gloves, and the environment. A smoked fish processing plant was used as a model system. The model estimated that 10.7% (5th and 95th percentile, 0.05% and 22.3%, respectively) of food products in a lot are likely to be contaminated with L. monocytogenes. Sensitivity analysis identified the most significant input parameters as the frequency with which employees' gloves contact food and food contact surfaces, and the frequency of changing gloves. Scenario analysis indicated that the greatest reduction of the within-lot prevalence of contaminated food products can be achieved if the raw material entering the plant is free of contamination. Zero contamination of food products in a lot was possible but rare. This model could be used in a risk assessment to quantify the potential public health benefits of in-plant control strategies to reduce cross-contamination.

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