Seek and destroy: The importance of environmental monitoring for meat and poultry

Seek and destroy: The importance of environmental monitoring for meat and poultry

The food industry continues to move toward a preventive, proactive approach to food safety. Testing for pathogens in food processing environments allows food manufacturers to identify and eliminate environmental pathogen sources, helping to reduce the risk of food contamination, recalls, and foodborne illness.

Pathogen environmental monitoring (PEM) programs are typically used to verify sanitation measures, can provide early indications of hazards, and are more effective than testing finished products alone. Pathogens tend to be heterogeneously distributed in finished products in different lots or batches, especially in ready-to-eat (RTE) products. Combining environmental monitoring with finished product testing provides a more complete picture of risks in the processing environment.

“Environmental monitoring helps ensure that your cleaning and sanitation is working,” says Raj Rajagopal, Ph.D., lead global technical specialist for 3M Food Safety. “Listeria is the number one concern for RTE meat handling but controlling it can be complex and time-consuming. We can help with tools for sampling and detection.”

Listeria is a bacterial genus that is comprised of 17 species including the human pathogen Listeria monocytogenes which can cause serious foodborne illness. While L. monocytogenes is the pathogen of concern, PEM programs typically test for Listeria spp., which means a positive test result indicates the presence of a Listeria that may or may not be L. monocytogenes. This strategy provides for a more sensitive approach to identify niches and harborage sites that could support L. monocytogenes growth.

One of the few documents that provides guidance on sampling frequency is a United States Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service (USDA FSIS) Listeria guidance document that suggests collection of 3 to 5 food contact surface (Zone 1) samples per production line per sampling. This could range from weekly to every 6 months for extremely low-risk facilities (Table 3), but only covers Zone 1 (food contact surfaces).

Description of sampling frequency for the different food processing facility alternatives classified by USDA FSIS.

Look at the workflow and find the hidden places

You should look at every step of your meat and poultry processing where contamination can occur – especially in the places that might be missed in standard cleaning. “You want to do your best to find places where Listeria might be hiding – not just the flat surfaces, but the niches and cracks,” says Wilfredo Dominguez, microbiology application specialist with 3M Food Safety.

“You should be testing the complete process, including raw materials and ingredients” says Raj. “Not just the end product – take a risk-based approach to test along the entire process, including the environment.”

The sampling strategy sometimes referred to as seek and destroy, refers to the idea that you shouldn’t just be looking in the more obvious places. It’s not just about how many square centimeters you test, or the size of the surface. “Don’t just stick to the grid,” says Wilfredo, “Go to the hidden places.”

Example of the seek and destroy process.

USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service Selects 3M

After rigorous performance evaluations against other methods, the USDA’s Food Safety & Inspection Service has selected the 3M™ Molecular Detection System as the method of detection for Salmonella and Listeria monocytogenes. The 3M™ Molecular Detection helps ensure you’re aligning your testing methods to the updated FSIS pathogen reduction performance standards for beef, pork and poultry.

International Validations and Recognitions

3M solutions and methods have been internationally recognized and validated.

Third-party validation organizations such as AOAC INTERNATIONAL scrutinize methods and certify that they are reliable and perform equal to or better than the reference method to which it was compared. 3M Food Safety takes these programs very seriously, and we have completed more than:

  • 20 AOAC® Official Methods of AnalysisSM (OMA) Validations
  • 14 AOAC® Performance Tested MethodSM(PTM) Certifications
  • 19 NF VALIDATION by AFNOR Certification
  • 1 MicroVal Certification

Resources to get you started

Go in depth to learn more with guidance from industry, academia and agencies.

Meat and Poultry Hazards Control Guide
A reference guide with process steps and controls from the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

FSIS Listeria Compliance Guideline
Controlling Listeria monocytogenes in Post-Lethality Exposed Ready-to-Eat Meat and Poultry Products.

Environmental Monitoring Handbook
A preventive approach through testing the food processing environment can help identify and correct potential issue. Developed in partnership with Cornell University and industry partnerships.