Following the 2008 Canadian listeriosis outbreak associated with ready-to-eat (RTE) meat products, regulations on the presence of Listeria monocytogenes in RTE food production facilities were modified by Health Canada, confirming the need to control this pathogen, not only in the final product but also in the plant environment. Information on the occurrence of this microorganism during the early steps of production, such as the slaughtering process and in the cutting area, is scarce in Canada. In this study, we sampled different production steps in a slaughtering and cutting plant in the province of Quebec over a 2-year period. The lairage pens, representative areas of the slaughter line, and cutting zones were targeted after their respective cleaning procedures. A total of 874 samples were analyzed for the presence of L. monocytogenes. Characterization was done by first genoserogrouping the isolates using multiplex PCR and then using a pulsed-field gel electrophoresis approach. L. monocytogenes was detected throughout all production stages. The 108 positive samples found were analyzed further, and we established that there were 4 different serogroups, with serogroup IIb being the most prevalent. The results of pulsed-field gel electrophoresis analysis showed a significant decrease in the diversity of strains from the first areas of the plant to the cutting room (10 pulsotypes in 13 positive samples in lairage and 9 in 86 positive samples in cutting) and also showed the overrepresentation of a single predominant strain in the cutting room environment (type 1, representing 96.1% of the isolates). Biofilm formation analysis of the strains cannot exclusively explain the transitions we observed. A strong genotypic similarity between strains isolated in the early production areas and some strains in the cutting room was shown. These results support the need for better surveillance of L. monocytogenes prior to RTE food production in order to design control strategies that are better adapted from a public health perspective.

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