ABSTRACT

Environmental monitoring for Listeria monocytogenes in food processing environments is key for ensuring the safety of ready-to-eat foods. For sampling, swabs are often hydrated with a wetting or transport medium that may contain neutralizers and other ingredients. After swabbing the environment, the swabs may then be transported or shipped cold to an off-site laboratory for testing, ideally within 48 h. Extended shipping times may subject the pathogen to increased temperatures in the presence of the wetting medium, organics, and other chemicals from the processing facility that could confound detection. This study evaluated growth and detection of L. monocytogenes on stainless steel exposed to either buffer or sodium hypochlorite before drying. Swabs were rehydrated with Butterfield's phosphate buffer, neutralizing buffer, Letheen broth, or Dey-Engley neutralizing broth before swabbing. Swabs were stored in the presence of no added food, cheese whey, or ice cream under both optimal (4°C) and suboptimal (15°C) temperatures for up to 72 h. Overall, there was no growth of L. monocytogenes at 4°C through 72 h of storage, although enrichment from these swabs was dependent on the presence and type of food matrix. Pathogen growth during storage at 15°C was more variable and depended on both the food matrix and transport media used, with Dey-Engley and Letheen broths allowing for the highest population increases. Overall, more enrichments resulting in L. monocytogenes detections were observed when using Letheen broth and neutralizing buffer than Dey-Engley broth, which resulted in fewer detections at 15°C. Logistic regression and Cochran-Mantel-Haenszel analyses determined that storage temperature, transport media, and food matrix all significantly affected detection of L. monocytogenes, whereas storage time did not have a clear effect on recovery from swabs.

HIGHLIGHTS
  • Growth in swabs was impacted by all transport variables.

  • Extended shipping time at 15°C may not be deleterious for L. monocytogenes detection.

  • At 15°C, DE and LE allowed L. monocytogenes growth in swabs, whereas NB and BPB did not.

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