How Your Flooring System Can Contribute To The Spread Of Listeria
Updated: Feb 4
Eating food contaminated with L. monocytogenes can result in listeriosis, an uncommon but potentially fatal disease.
Food and beverage epoxy flooring contractors are particularly concerned with Listeria because it’s found almost everywhere, which makes total prevention impossible, and because it can cause serious and sometimes fatal food-borne illnesses.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that Listeria causes 1,600 illnesses and 260 deaths per year in the United States alone.
What Is Listeria?
Listeria is often called a “ubiquitous organism”, because it can be found in almost any environment. It’s frequently found in raw meat, poultry, milk, vegetables, soil, open water, animal feces, and other common locations.
This bacteria is also commonly found in flooring systems, which is why installing an antibacterial epoxy floor is crucial for your food and beverage facility.
Listeria is also an incredibly durable strain of bacteria, and it can survive refrigeration, deep freezing, wide pH ranges, high salt content environments, low moisture environments, and even oxygen-deprived anaerobic environments.
Because Listeria is so common, it is nearly impossible to prevent it from entering your facility. Instead, employers should take care to regularly test food products, prevent the formation of growth niches and biofilms, clean and sanitize all surfaces in the facility, and install food grade epoxy flooring inside all buildings that house food and beverage products.
The Effects Of Listeria
A listeriosis outbreak is devastating, not only to the individuals that become ill but to the food processing facility that made that food. Depending on the size of a facility and the size of the outbreak, a food processing plant could be forced to throw out all of their products that may be contaminated with Listeria.
The food processor may also have to issue a recall of contaminated or potentially contaminated food. The processor will also have to take steps to ensure that the Listeria is eliminated from the processing environment.
This may require the processing facility to be shut down for hours or days while the facility is cleaned and processing equipment is disassembled and deep cleaned.
Plant closings can cost thousands to millions of dollars in lost time, decreased productivity and reputation damage. In addition to those losses, there may be fines and litigation costs that can be even larger.
Why A Food Safe Epoxy Flooring System Helps
Listeria often thrives on floors, drains, cleaning and washing areas, food contact equipment, walls, ceilings, compressed air and HVAC systems, permeable surfaces, open seams, cracks, crevices, and hard-to-reach or hard-to-clean parts of equipment.
Whenever possible, you should eliminate seams in your facility by using special food safe epoxy floors, seamless walls, floors, and covings.
Many facilities also use epoxy coatings to seal equipment footings to the floor. Pests, such as flies, cockroaches, and mice can easily transport Listeria throughout your facility, so preventative pest control is essential.
Listeria can be killed by cooking or pasteurization of the final product and by thermally sanitizing food contact surfaces.
Cleaning floors is an essential part of maintaining food processing operations to keep up with government standards. A proper floor coating is a necessity for dealing with the vigorous, harsh cleaning procedures that typically include very hot water and aggressive cleaning chemicals.
Your Floor Coating Plays An Important Role
Depending on the exposure to corrosive, temperature, and moisture conditions, a thin film coating may suffice. However, in most cases, a thick, durable floor coating is needed to endure the cleaning operations.
If too thin of a coating is used, the repeated barrage of high pressure, high-temperature hot water and steam will strip the floor coating. Only an experienced flooring professional can determine the proper floor coating for a facility.
A Seamless Floor is Essential To Prevent Bacteria & Other Harmful Germs
In addition to the properties of the floor coating, proper installation is essential for maintaining a hygienic, safe facility.
If a floor is not seamless, even the best floor coatings are vulnerable to germ buildup within gaps and cracks. To prevent harmful substance accumulation, a seamless coving transition from the floor to the wall is needed.
Coving also aids in the cleaning process by allowing for hosing around the sides and corners of the room where germ buildup is most common.
The Consequences Of Listeria
This can be shown by looking at the recent Listeria outbreak at the cantaloupe production facility, Jensen Farms, which led to 33 fatalities, 142 hospitalized victims, and ultimately, the end of their business.
In 2011 the FDA released a report which focused on “Factors Potentially Contributing to the Contamination of Fresh, Whole Cantaloupe Implicated in the Multi-State Listeria monocytogenes Foodborne Illness Outbreak”.
The conclusion was reached that the leading cause of Listeria spreading was due to a poorly constructed packing facility floor that was difficult to clean and allowed water to pool.
In summary, Listeria is a hardy species of bacteria that is present in almost all environments. To prevent Listeria from proliferating in your plant you should alter your facility’s environment to make it less bacteria-friendly. This includes using special food grade epoxy resin flooring, epoxy-coated walls and ceilings, avoiding wood products, and regularly cleaning and sanitizing all drains and surfaces.