Contamination of foods with the human pathogen Listeria monocytogenes may occur during processing, and the purpose of this study was to determine whether genetically similar strains colonize different processing plants or whether specific persistent strains are unique to each processing plant. We hypothesized that specific L. monocytogenes strains may be better adapted to specific environmental niches in the processing environment. L. monocytogenes contamination patterns were identified by the collection of 686 and 267 samples from the processing environments: raw fish and products of four fish smokehouses and four fish slaughterhouses, respectively. Samples were collected both during production and after cleaning and disinfection. Typically, these samplings were separated by 1 to 3 months. Sampling sites were targeted toward areas likely to harbor the bacterium. L. monocytogenes was isolated from 213 samples, and one strain from each positive sample was typed by RAPD (random amplified polymorphic DNA) analysis with four different primers. The 213 strains were divided into 37 RAPD types. One RAPD type was predominant; 86 of 213 strains belonged to this type. This type was found in three smokehouses and two slaughterhouses and was predominant in three of these plants. A subset of 35 strains was also analyzed by amplified fragment length polymorphism typing, which confirmed the genetic similarity of the groups. Moreover, strains of the dominant RAPD type were indistinguishable from strains isolated frequently from smoked fish products 10 years ago. One smokehouse was surveyed for a year and a half, and the dominant RAPD type persisted throughout the survey period and accounted for 94 of 118 isolates. Our study indicates that strains of L. monocytogenes that are genetically very closely related may be especially adapted to colonizing the processing equipment or especially resistant to cleaning and disinfection.
Applied and Environmental Microbiology, 2006, Vol 72, Issue 6, p. 4313-4322