WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service and the Food and Drug Administration have issued a report on the findings of a study to reduce listeria contamination in retail delis.

The quantitative study, called the first of its kind, was based on observations of deli employees' work routines; concentrations of listeria on incoming products and in the deli environment; simulations of the bacteria's transmission, such as from slicer to food; and dose-response modeling.

The findings are applicable to small, independent retailers and deli departments in large supermarkets, FSIS said.

The report recommends that all refrigerated, ready-to-eat foods be stored at a temperature of 41 degrees Fahrenheit or lower. It suggests that all deli products that support listeria growth be reformulated to contain growth inhibitor, which could prevent up to 96 of 100 cases of listeriosis.

The study also found more efforts are needed to prevent listeria contamination on products coming into the deli. Close to a quarter of listeria illnesses could be prevented if current listeria levels on ready-to-eat foods from processing facilities were cut in half.

Finally, more needs to be done to prevent cross-contamination within the deli environment, including focusing on proper cleaning of equipment and personal hygiene.

“Essential information has been gained from these findings, including the fact that once Lm [listeria monocytogenes] enters a retail environment, it has the potential to spread due to cross contamination. This assessment highlights the importance of our work to prevent Lm from entering the retail environment in the first place, and provides a significant tool towards this effort to protect consumers and prevent foodborne illness," USDA Under Secretary for Food Safety Dr. Elisabeth Hagen said in a statement.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, listeria causes 1,600 illnesses, 1,500 hospitalizations and 260 deaths each year.

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