Listeria monocytogenes is a foodborne pathogen that is widely dispersed in the environment; it is found in soil, water and plant material, and can grow at refrigeration temperature and at unfavourable conditions of pH (up to pH 4.7) and salt (up to 10%). It can persist in the harsh conditions of the food processing environment from which it can contaminate food. Listeriosis, infection with L. monocytogenes, can be mild but the ability of the pathogen to cross the epithelial barrier of the intestinal tract, the blood brain barrier and the feto-placental barrier can also result in more severe illness including bacteremia and meningitis or spontaneous miscarriage. Although relatively rare, infection with L. monocytogenes can have a mortality rate of up to 30%, resulting in a serious hazard, particularly for the high risk groups of the elderly and immunocompromised individuals. As consumer demand for less processed, less preserved, longer shelf-life ready-to-eat food increases, the threat of L. monocytogenes to public health and the food industry continues to rise. In addition to being a public health threat, L. monocytogenes is a major economic burden on industry in terms of costs of analysis and potential product recalls. Awareness of its ubiquitous nature and understanding of its physiology and survival are important aspects of its control in the food processing environment with the aim of reducing the public health concern. Appropriate methodologies are required for its detection and isolation. Characterisation of strains by pulsed field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) and other genotypic methods can facilitate identification of putative contamination routes. Whole genome sequencing (WGS) of outbreak strains is becoming a part of outbreak investigation. Such WGS will lead to a greater understanding of the physiology of the organism as well as contribute to understanding epidemiology and pathogenicity. However, despite the advances, the best mechanism of public health protection is still prevention. Awareness of its presence, and control by conventional hygiene methods or by novel biocontrol methods such as bacteriocins and bacteriophage will help prevent cross-contamination of food from the environment and therefore reduce the public health burden.
Key words: Listeria monocytogenes, food, occurrence, prevalence, control.
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