Fate of Listeria monocytogenes in experimentally contaminated French sausages

D Thévenot, M L Delignette-Muller, S Christieans, C Vernozy-Rozand
International Journal of Food Microbiology 2005 May 25, 101 (2): 189-200
Listeria monocytogenes has been recognized as one of the most important foodborne pathogens dealt with by the food. The bacterium has been found in every part along the pork processing industry from the slaughterhouse to the cutting room and the delicatessen factories. During the fermentation and drying of sausages, L. monocytogenes tends to decrease substantially. However, despite the various hurdles in the dry sausage manufacturing process, L. monocytogenes is able to survive and is detected in the final products. The present study has evaluated growth and survival of eight different L. monocytogenes strains (originating from sausage, sausage industry environment and from clinical cases of listeriosis) in experimentally inoculated French sausages with 10(4) cfu g(-1). This study points out the fact that the decrease of L. monocytogenes contamination rate during the manufacturing process of sausages is strain dependent (p < 0.001) and mainly due to the drying and maturation step than to the fermentation itself. Whatever the strains studied, almost no decrease of the contamination rate was noted during the fermentation step. However hurdle-adapted strains (those isolated from sausages or sausage industry environment) were more difficult to cure from sausages (decrease by 1.5 log10) than non-adapted strains (decrease by 3 log10) at the end of the drying period (day 35), when sausages were ready for consumption. These sausages became safe only at the best before date. As a consequence, L. monocytogenes and more particularly those "adapted" strains might represent a very important issue for hygienists since these strains originating from sausages or production environment themselves are likely to contaminate sausages during manufacturing and remain in the final products. However, the high inoculum levels used in the study (10(4) cfu g(-1)) are not representative of the natural contamination of L. monocytogenes commonly encountered in the raw material for sausages. If such contamination happened to be inferior to 100 cfu g(-1), then the manufacturing process used in this study would be able to produce "safe" sausages according to the European regulation requiring the absence of L. monocytogenes in 25 g of food with a tolerance of below 100 cfu g(-1) at the best before date.

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