Frozen food to fork: managing listeriosis risks

Friday, 13 December, 2019

Frozen food to fork: managing listeriosis risks

Cornell research funded by the Frozen Food Foundation developed a modelling tool to assist the frozen food industry with understanding and managing listeriosis risks. The findings are published in the December 2019 issue of Journal of Food Protection.

The frozen vegetables market in the US is worth approximately US$4.4billion (AU$6.3bn). While the frozen product is intended to be consumed after following validated cooking instructions provided on the package, some consumers are not following instructions and instead adding the frozen product directly to smoothies or salads for example. This growing consumer trend may contribute to the risk of foodborne listeriosis.

The goal of this study was to therefore understand to what extent consumer preparation methods contrary to package instructions impact the risk of listeriosis.

The study developed a decision-making tool — Frozen Food Listeria Lot Risk Assessment (The FFLLoRA) — that incorporates several factors including individual facility attributes, Listeria monocytogenes (Lm) prevalence and consumer handling to estimate listeriosis risks. The model was designed to assess the lot-level listeriosis risk due to Lm contamination in frozen vegetables consumed as a ready-to-eat food.

"While Lm-related foodborne illness is rarely associated with frozen foods, the frozen food industry is focused on better understanding Listeria to prevent a listeriosis event from occurring," said Frozen Food Foundation Executive Vice President Dr Donna Garren. "That's why we invest in scientific research from the frozen food facility to fork."

While researchers demonstrated that low levels of Lm in frozen vegetables did not typically cause illness, the study also revealed the significance of production practices and finished-product testing, along with the role of consumers to follow validated cooking instructions.

"The goal of the research was to develop a tool for companies to assess individual production lot risks based on various scenarios," said Cornell lead researchers Dr Renata Ivanek and Dr Martin Wiedmann. "FFLLoRA helps interpret and evaluate finished-product testing results and may support food safety decisions to prevent recalls."

The lead author of the study, Dr Claire Zoellner, added, "Importantly, the study also identified key data gaps that will be prioritised in future research, including quantifying the need for consumers to follow validated cooking instructions."

Cornell's research on Lm will continue throughout 2020 to provide a better understanding of Lm prevalence in frozen food facilities and related risk assessment.

To access the full paper, click here.

The Frozen Food Foundation is affiliated with the American Frozen Food Institute.

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