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Listeria monocytogenes in Smeared Cheese
To minimize the risk of process contamination during cheese ripening via the cheese smear, this liquid-based sampling strategy was established, which is also applicable to brine or drain water samples. Since the majority of soft, semi-hard and hard cheeses in Austria are surface-ripened, smear liquids are, in most cases, collected after the smearing process. Compared to product-contact surface-sampling using friction-swabs, these liquids constitute a matrix that provides a much broader representation of the contamination status by including both cheese components and contact with surfaces inside of the production equipment, e.g., smear robots. Sampling of a non-homogenous solid product creates real challenges in terms of consistency and representativeness. Listeria contamination is more likely on the surface rind than inside the cheese matrix. Moreover, sampling of a batch of individual cheeses has potential for statistical biases unless true randomisation is rigorously adhered to. Sampling biases are major concerns and the degree of harmonization among procedures is usually low (sampling frequency and sampling sites are usually less well standardized). The implementation of preventive food safety concepts by tailored food sector-specific sampling procedures provokes a deepened insight of the FBOs into the operation-specific status of contamination and facilitates a comparison of scenarios.
Most Austrian dairies and cheese manufacturers participated in a Listeria monitoring program, which was established after the first reports of dairy product-associated listeriosis outbreaks more than thirty years ago. Within the Listeria monitoring program, up to 800 mL of product-associated liquids such as cheese smear or brine are processed in a semi-quantitative approach to increase epidemiological sensitivity. A sampling strategy within cheese production, which detects environmental contamination before it results in problematic food contamination, has benefits for food safety management. The liquid-based sampling strategy was implemented by both industrial cheese makers and small-scale dairies located in the mountainous region of Western Austria. This report considers more than 12,000 Listeria spp. examinations of liquid-based samples in the 2009 to 2018 timeframe. Overall, the occurrence of L. monocytogenes in smear liquid samples was 1.29% and 1.55% (n = 5043 and n = 7194 tested samples) for small and industrial cheese enterprises, respectively. The liquid-based sampling strategy for Listeria monitoring at the plant level appears to be superior to solid surface monitoring. Cheese smear liquids seem to have good utility as an index of the contamination of cheese up to that point in production. A modelling or validation process should be performed for the new semi-quantitative approach to estimate the true impact of the method in terms of reducing Listeria contamination at the cheese plant level.
The entry is from 10.3390/foods10091977
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