Sunday, June 30, 2013


Increasing episodes of Listeria monocytogenes contamination of animal based products like meat are causing serious concern, especially in retail super markets where meat muscles are sliced before serving to the consumers. As these slicers can harbor this pathogenic bacteria, transmission from serving to serving becomes a reality posing safety risks. L.monocytogenes happens to be one of the most versatile pathogens that can thrive even at cold temperatures if right moisture conditions prevail and almost 20% mortality is being attributed to infection with this pathogen, young and the elderly being highly vulnerable. What is interesting is that incidence of L.monocytogenes contamination occurs more frequently at the retail preparation level while factory processed products are comparatively safer. Though there are powerful chemicals that can kill the bacteria, their use in meat is restricted by food laws and use of chemicals invariably taint the product affecting the flavor and taste. Recent report that bacteriophage preparations specific to L.cytogenes are highly effective in sanitizing the meat products is a welcome news that is going to give relief to the retail Deli meat industry. Here is a take on this important development.   

"To comply with the regulation, Deli Brands initially used lauric arginate and a smoke derivative, but that created "issues with our process," Tew says. Next the company tried injecting sodium lactate and sodium diacetate into the meat products, but that caused flavor issues and increased processing costs substantially. Then, when USDA approved Listex as a processing aid in May of 2011, Tew and his colleagues were able to resolve their dilemma. "We started using Listex about 18 months ago on all of our whole-muscle cooked products," Tew says. "We found that by using Listex as a surface treatment with sodium lactate and sodium diacetate in the carrier solution, we improved our products' flavor profile, reduced our processing costs, and significantly increased our shelf life — to as long as 70 days. And because it's a processing aid, Listex does not have to be listed in ingredient statements, which means we didn't have to change our product labeling." Developed by Micreos Food Safety, Wageningen, The Netherlands, Listex is a culture of bacteriophages (or phages for short) that effectively eliminate Listeria monocytogenes. As phages occur in nature, are specific to their target bacterial species, do not affect desirable bacteria in foods or in the human gastrointestinal tract, and do not alter the finished product's organoleptic properties (such as taste, texture and color), Listex is listed by the Organic Material Review Institute, meaning it can be used in processing of natural and organic foods. Listex is one of the most cost-effective interventions on the market, says Dirk de Meester, Micreos' business development director".

The very mention of virus (bacteriophage) evokes some apprehension among consumers as they are causative agents for many deadly diseases mankind has been facing for centuries but bacteriophage preparation developed in the Netherlands is a harmless product that does not affect friendly and beneficial microgenome of humans, being highly specific to L.cytogenes. Industry seems to have accepted the technique of using the bacteriophage preparation for surface treatment which provides a protective umbrella to preempt contamination from L.cytogenes. As it is not considered an ingredient in the processing, there is no compulsion to declare the same on the front of the label of the pack. 


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