Food

Quantitative Assessment of Relative Risk to Public Health from Foodborne Listeria monocytogenes Among Selected Categories of Ready-to-Eat Foods

September 2003

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Service, Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (DHHS/FDA/CFSAN) conducted this risk assessment in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (USDA/FSIS) and in consultation with the DHHS Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The purpose of the assessment is to examine systematically the available scientific data and information to estimate the relative risks of serious illness and death associated with consumption of different types of ready-to-eat (RTE) foods that may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes. This examination of the current science and the models developed from it are among the tools that food safety regulatory agencies will consider when evaluating the effectiveness of current and future policies, programs, and regulatory practices to minimize the public health impact of this pathogen.

The Healthy People 2010 goals for national health promotion and disease prevention called on federal food safety agencies to reduce foodborne listeriosis by 50% by the end of the year 2005. Preliminary FoodNet data on the incidence of foodborne illnesses for the United States in 2001 indicated that the incidence of infection from Listeria monocytogenes decreased between 1996 and 2001 from 0.5 to 0.3 cases per 100,000 people per year. The level then reached a plateau. In order to reduce further the incidence to a level of 0.25 cases per 100,000 people by the end of 2005, it became evident that additional targeted measures were needed. The Listeria monocytogenes risk assessment was initiated as an evaluation tool in support of this goal.

Listeria monocytogenes is a bacterium that occurs widely in both agricultural (soil, plants and water) and food processing environments. Ingestion of Listeria monocytogenes can cause listeriosis, which can be a life-threatening human illness. In 2000, the CDC reported that of all the foodborne pathogens tracked by CDC, Listeria monocytogenes had the second highest case fatality rate (21%) and the highest hospitalization rate (90.5%). Serious illness almost always occurs in people considered to be at higher risk, such as the elderly and those who have a preexisting illness that reduces the effectiveness of their immune system. Perinatal listeriosis results from foodborne exposure of the pregnant mother leading to in utero exposure of the fetus, resulting in fetal infection that leads to fetal death, premature birth, or neonatal illness and death. Listeria monocytogenes also causes listerial gastroenteritis, a syndrome typically associated with mild gastrointestinal symptoms in healthy

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