Alliance for Listeriosis Prevention - Questions and Answers

These questions and answers relate to the release of the Listeria Risk Assessment Document by the Food and Drug Administration, October 21, 2003.

Note: A helpful resource for information and questions about Listeriosis generally can be found on the Web site of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


What is a "risk assessment"?


Risk assessment is a scientific exercise. Typically, science-based risk assessments are not risk management documents. Rather, they provide information for risk managers to determine appropriate risk management strategies to meet the level of risk that is acceptable by society.

The National Advisory Committee on Microbiological Criteria for Foods (NACMCF) defines risk assessment as "the process of identifying hazards and characterizing the risk of illness." NACMCF defines risk as "the likelihood that an adverse health effect will occur within a population as a result of a hazard in a food." (NACMFC, 1998, "Principles of risk assessment for illness caused by foodborne biological agents," Journal of Food Protection 61:1071-1074)


Some critics say the government has been waiting too long to implement new Listeria prevention measures, and that enough studies already have been completed. What is your response to this?


It is important to remember there are efforts underway currently to prevent listeriosis. These include implementation of Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) programs, aggressive environmental monitoring programs to detect the bacteria in food production facilities, appropriate interventions, sound Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs), advancements in equipment design that prevent contamination and more. (For further information on the types of programs the food industry has implemented to prevent contamination of foods with Listeria, see "Guidelines to Prevent Post-Processing Contamination from Listeria monocytogenes.") They also must include comprehensive efforts involving food handlers throughout the food chain, and education by the medical community to reach populations particularly vulnerable to listeriosis.

The Alliance for Listeriosis Prevention shares the vision of enhancing listeriosis prevention measures, and the risk assessment and action plan is a catalyst for this. It is indeed the case that there is a significant body of science on this topic, and the risk assessment and action plan process has been necessary to integrate the science with listeriosis prevention in a strategic way. Taking action for action's sake is a feel-good approach; taking action intelligently is a do-good approach.


What does the Alliance see as the next step in light of the release of the risk assessment document?


Certainly, the point of this process has been to make possible strategic action. The Alliance and its members will carefully evaluate the risk assessment document to identify the prudent steps toward enhanced vigilance in listeriosis prevention. The food industry will continue to strive to keep Listeria monocytogenes out of the food supply to the extent possible by implementing the available controls as well as new technological advances whenever they are feasible.

Note: The article "Guidelines to Prevent Post-Processing Contamination from Listeria monocytogenes," referenced above, is reprinted with permission from Dairy, Food and Environmental Sanitation. Copyright held by the International Association of Food Protection.

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