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Persistence of microbiological hazards in food and feed production and processing environments

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Wiley Online Library

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Listeria monocytogenes (in the meat, fish and seafood, dairy and fruit and vegetable sectors), Salmonella enterica (in the feed, meat, egg and low moisture food sectors) and Cronobacter sakazakii (in the low moisture food sector) were identified as the bacterial food safety hazards most relevant to public health that are associated with persistence in the food and feed processing environment (FFPE). There is a wide range of subtypes of these hazards involved in persistence in the FFPE. While some specific subtypes are more commonly reported as persistent, it is currently not possible to identify universal markers (i.e. genetic determinants) for this trait. Common risk factors for persistence in the FFPE are inadequate zoning and hygiene barriers; lack of hygienic design of equipment and machines; and inadequate cleaning and disinfection. A well‐designed environmental sampling and testing programme is the most effective strategy to identify contamination sources and detect potentially persistent hazards. The establishment of hygienic barriers and measures within the food safety management system, during implementation of hazard analysis and critical control points, is key to prevent and/or control bacterial persistence in the FFPE. Once persistence is suspected in a plant, a ‘seek‐and‐destroy’ approach is frequently recommended, including intensified monitoring, the introduction of control measures and the continuation of the intensified monitoring. Successful actions triggered by persistence of L. monocytogenes are described, as well as interventions with direct bactericidal activity. These interventions could be efficient if properly validated, correctly applied and verified under industrial conditions. Perspectives are provided for performing a risk assessment for relevant combinations of hazard and food sector to assess the relative public health risk that can be associated with persistence, based on bottom‐up and top‐down approaches. Knowledge gaps related to bacterial food safety hazards associated with persistence in the FFPE and priorities for future research are provided.