Contamination analysis of persistent and nonpersistent Listeria monocytogenes strains in three meat processing plants and one poultry processing plant were performed in order to identify factors predisposing to or sustaining persistent plant contamination. A total of 596 L. monocytogenes isolates were divided into 47 pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) types by combining the restriction enzyme patterns of AscI (42 patterns) and ApaI (38 patterns). Persistent and nonpersistent strains were found in all plants. Nonpersistent PFGE types were found mostly at one sampling site, with the processing environment being the most common location, whereas the persistent strains were found at several sampling sites in most cases. The processing machines were frequently contaminated with persistent L. monocytogenes PFGE types, and it was of concern that surfaces having direct contact with the products were contaminated. The role of the processing machines in sustaining contamination and in contaminating the products appeared to be important because the final product of several processing lines was contaminated with the same L. monocytogenes PFGE type as that found in the processing machine. The proportion of persistent PFGE types in heat-treated products was eight times higher than in the raw products, showing the importance of the persistent PFGE types as contaminants of the final heat-treated products. The contamination status of the processing lines and machines appeared to be influenced by the compartmentalization of the processing line, with poor compartmentalization increasing L. monocytogenes contamination. The separation of raw and post–heat treatment areas seemed especially important in the contamination status of post–heat treatment lines.
†Present address: Department of Agricultural Engineering and Household Technology, Faculty of Agriculture and Forestry, University of Helsinki, Finland.