The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, is currently investigating a multistate outbreak of listeriosis that has resulted in one death and 10 people hospitalized. Listeriosis is a foodborne disease caused by Listeria monocytogenes, a pathogenic microorganism that is omnipresent in the environment. It is a facultative anaerobic bacterium capable of surviving in the presence or absence of oxygen. It can grow and reproduce inside the host’s cells and is one of the most virulent foodborne pathogens, with 20% to 30% of foodborne listeriosis infections in high-risk individuals being fatal.
Ready-to-eat (RTE) meats such as deli-style chicken, ham, pastrami, prosciutto, roast beef, salami and turkey are particularly vulnerable, as Listeria can live and thrive on plastic, metal and in water, too. While heat will kill this dangerous pathogen, RTE meats seldom undergo a sufficient heat treatment by consumers to destroy the bacteria.
There are a range of ingredients that may be included to assist with food safety; however, in efforts to keep labels as clean as possible, a growing number of meat processors are turning to high-pressure processing (HPP). This is a non-thermal treatment that renders packaged RTE meats free from pathogenic microorganisms. Companies such as Hormel Foods Corp., Austin, Minn., and its subsidiary, Applegate Farms, Bridgewater, NJ, use HPP on many RTE refrigerated meat and poultry products.