Research – Presence and Persistence of Listeria monocytogenes in the Danish Ready-to-Eat Food Production Environment



Listeria monocytogenes is an ubiquitously occurring foodborne bacterial pathogen known to contaminate foods during the production processes. To assess the presence and persistence of L. monocytogenes in Danish ready-to-eat (RTE) food production companies in response to a Listeria awareness campaign, the production environment of selected companies were sampled in 2016 and in 2020. Whole genome sequencing (WGS) was performed to characterize the isolates (n = 50, plus 35 isolates obtained from the routine surveillance during 2016–2020), including investigation of the presence of virulence, persistence and resistance genes. The number of companies that tested positive by culture was 17/39 (43.6%) in 2016 and 11/34 (32.4%) in 2020, indicating a limited effect of the campaign. WGS analyses of the 85 isolates showed that the most common sequence types (STs) were ST8 and ST121. The single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) analysis showed that isolates coming from the same company and belonging to the same ST exhibited <10 SNP differences regardless of the sampling year and whether the samples came from the environment or products, indicating the persistence of the specific STs. Several prevalent STs were found in clinical cases concurrently, including genetically similar isolates. This highlights the issue of persistent L. monocytogenes in the food production environment and the need for improved risk communication and mitigation strategies.

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