Summer is in full swing! Plenty of fun things may be going on in your facility during this time. The last thing you’re probably worried about is Listeria, but you should. Listera, found in contaminated food, can sicken your customers, guests, or employees – causing an outbreak that could impact your business or organization.
Listeria is known to creep its way into gyms, classrooms, production facilities, and anywhere people share space and equipment or eat. A recent study reports around 10% of our population could be carrying this bacteria, making the chances of you encountering it likely.
Quick Facts About Listeria
- According to the Center for Disease Control, “An estimated 1,600 people get sick from Listeria each year, and about 260 die.”
- Most healthy people’s bodies can recover quickly from listeria infections.
- Pregnant women, young children, elderly people, and people with compromised immune systems are more sensitive to listeria infections.
- Symptoms of listeria infections include achy muscles, nausea, diarrhea, occasional vomiting, and sometimes, fever. The symptoms can take effect a few days after ingesting contaminated food but occasionally will strike up to weeks later.
Why is Killing Listeria Difficult?
Listeria bacteria pose a unique problem because they’re not easy to kill. What makes this bacteria uniquely different from others is its abnormal tolerance for extreme temperatures and its ability to live on a surface for years. Enforcing and practicing firm cleaning, sanitizing and disinfection standards and protocols can safeguard your facility against the danger of a Listera outbreak.
What Are Some Ways Listeria Can Spread?
Here are the ways Listeria can make its way into your facility.
Recently, more and more news stories are reporting on major listeria outbreaks linked to contaminated food. From romaine lettuce to cantaloupes, to lunch meat, this bacteria has no boundaries on what it can infect. If several people consume a contaminated dish, it can result in multiple infections at once.
Contaminated Surfaces and Utensils
If contaminated foods come into contact with surfaces, utensils, or tools, unless those items are disinfected afterward, listeria will remain on them and migrate elsewhere.
Knives, cutting boards, pots and pans, shared towels, serving trays, counters, and even door handles are all at risk for contamination. When proper sanitation and disinfection procedures aren’t in place, these bacteria are free to flourish, multiply, and spread.
Storing contaminated produce or meat that harbors bacteria in containers also creates a risk for bacteria to spread in your facility. If the container is not disinfected to kill the listeria virus, it can survive and reproduce. After a container has been used to temporarily store food, it should be disinfected to kill bacteria.
Simple lapses in handwashing can even heighten the possibility of a listeria outbreak. For example, guests who have been grocery shopping and have come into contact with the bacteria then workout at your facility without washing their hands properly first can bring listeria from an outside place into your facility.
Other ways accidental cross-contamination occurs include improperly sanitized equipment, using contaminated tools that spread the bacteria, carrying the bacteria on shoes from place to place, and touching vents or drains where the bacteria are growing and then touching other surfaces – all spreading the listeria throughout your facility.
Where Can Listeria Live In My Facility?
Listeria can live on just about any surface it comes into contact with. This includes the obvious sources like on/ in food, in kitchens, and on counters, but it’s not limited to food-related spaces. You’ll also find it in bathrooms because of contaminated hands and shoes or air-borne particles from feces and vomit.
While we commonly link the spread of listeria to food-related industries, it can impact any facility where people share a space and use the same equipment. Here are other places that are prone to harbor listeria.
Listeria can survive extremely cold temperatures, so thinking that a refrigerator is safe from bacteria growth isn’t a good plan. Keep refrigerators set to a maximum of 40 degrees Fahrenheit and regularly clean and disinfect all surfaces to prevent listeria growth.
Kitchen Tables and Counters
Because listeria is a hearty bacteria and can survive for a very long time on many surfaces, kitchen tables and counters must be sanitized and disinfected daily. Start by cleansing the surface to remove any debris. After this, use an EPA registered disinfectant to fully eradicate bacteria. Do this at least once a day.
Kitchen Tools (knives, cutting boards, floor, etc.)
When handling meat or produce, kitchen tools are at a high risk of being contaminated with listeria bacteria. Not only do they come directly into contact with the bacteria, but they also come into contact with dirty hands or surfaces and can spread the pathogens to otherwise safe foods. Proper food handling procedures expand further than storing and washing – good habits and regular sanitation are a must.
Doorknobs and Handles
Spread through direct contact, these bacteria easily migrate from hands and rags to doorknobs and handles. Good handwashing techniques, wearing gloves according to safety protocol, and being mindful that even if hands don’t look dirty, they still might be contaminated can help you prevent the spread of this deadly bacteria in your facility.
Poor hand washing habits and/or not wearing gloves when handling potentially contaminated products are the fastest way to spread listeria bacteria from a food source to a facility where dozens or hundreds of other people might come into contact with it. Regular sanitation practices can drastically cut this risk.
Strains of the virus can spread through bodily fluids. If surfaces that come into contact with these pathogens are not disinfected, it can infect others. Contaminated hands are the most common way listeria begins to circulate your facility but contaminated shoes can also harbor this bacteria – moving it from a bathroom to a treadmill or gym mat in minutes.
Listeria Prevention Tips
Proper cleaning and sanitation practices are key to killing listeria bacteria in your facility. Here are tips to help you keep listeria from running rampant and sickening employees, customers and guests.
- Create systems to help employees monitor and ensure that prep and storage temperatures fall in the safe zone.
- Keep a consistent schedule and logs of ongoing cleaning at appropriate time intervals.
- Always be sure to prepare sanitizers and disinfectants to the manufacturer’s specifications.
- Always clean equipment with soapy water and remove all residue before sanitizing items.
- Use NSF certified food-safe sanitizers and disinfectants to kill germs and pathogens on surfaces and equipment.
- Create a system to regularly check your facility for cracked, rusted, and damaged equipment that could harbor listeria growth. Be sure to have a follow up with to repair or replace it as soon as possible.
- Develop a system to regularly disinfect surfaces that come into contact with food. Simple and easy to use disinfectant wipes require no mixing of chemicals and can save time on clean-up and sanitation. Ideally, each surface should be disinfected after each use.
- Identify non-toxic disinfecting solutions and choose the best one for your facility. Pre-moistened disinfecting wipes make eliminating cross-contamination on multiple surfaces easy. Look for wipes that don’t contain bleach or alcohol to ensure they won’t damage tools, utensils, equipment, and surfaces.
- Store food at safe temperatures and if appropriate, heat to the correct temperature before eating or serving.
- Practice vigilance with food – prepare it at safe temperatures, if something smells or looks off don’t eat it, and be sure to fully wash all produce before cooking, eating, or serving it.
Listeria Prevention Is Your Responsibility
Not many businesses can bounce back from the bad press that a listeria outbreak or negative health inspection generates. It’s your responsibility as a facility manager or owner to keep others safe and healthy. You can proactively prevent an outbreak by building consistent sanitation practices to control, remove, and prevent listeria bacteria from growing, and spreading through, your business.