About Listeria

From the nation’s leading law firm representing victims of Listeria and other foodborne illness outbreaks.

Chapter 3

The Prevalence of Listeria in Food and the Environment

Listeria bacteria are common in nature.

Listeria monocytogenes is omnipresent in nature; it is found widely in such places as water, soil, infected animals, human and animal feces, raw and treated sewage, leafy vegetables, effluent from poultry and meat processing facilities, decaying corn and soybeans, improperly fermented silage, and raw (unpasteurized) milk.

Listeria monocytogenes is omnipresent in nature; it is found widely in such places as water, soil, infected animals, human and animal feces, raw and treated sewage, leafy vegetables, effluent from poultry and meat processing facilities, decaying corn and soybeans, improperly fermented silage, and raw (unpasteurized) milk.

The prevalence of Listeria in ready-to-eat meats has not proven difficult to explain. As one expert in another much-cited article has noted:

The centralized production of prepared ready-to-eat food products. . . increases the risk of higher levels of contamination, since it requires that foods be stored for long periods at refrigerated temperatures that favor the growth of Listeria. During the preparation, transportation, and storage of prepared foods, the organism can multiply to reach a threshold needed to cause infection.

The danger posed by the risk of Listeria in ready-to-eat meats prompted the USDA to declare the bacterium an adulterant in these kinds of meat products and, as a result, to adopt a zero-tolerance policy for the presence of this deadly pathogen. The Code of Federal Regulations includes requirements for the post-lethality control of Listeria in meat and poultry products. This regulation is referred to as “The Listeria Rule” and was enacted in 2003. The rule outlines prevention and control measures that must be taken in processing facilities to reduce the risk of contamination of ready-to-eat products.

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