Many US Deli Meat Slicers Skimp on Cleanliness

You want some Listeria with that roast beef?

Before stopping at your favorite deli for a cold cut, you might want to consider how often the meat slicer gets cleaned.

You want some Listeria with that roast beef?

Infrequently cleaned slicers are more likely to affect deli meats that cause Listeria monocytogenes (Listeria) and other foodborne illnesses.

A new CDC report noted that Listeria infections are the third largest cause of US deaths linked to foodborne illness — nearly 255 Americans die from the illness annually.

As such, experts at the CDC’s Environmental Health Specialists Network (EHS-Net) studied how often retail deli slicers were fully cleaned (disassembled, cleaned, and sanitized).

Laura Brown, PhD, and her colleagues at the CDC interviewed staff members in 298 randomly selected delis in six EHS-Net sites. Eligible delis had at least one slicer, prepared or served ready-to-eat foods, and had English-speaking employees.

The team compared their data (January-September 2012) to the FDA’s Food Code, which stated food contact surfaces, including slicers, should be cleaned and sanitized at least every four hours.

According to the deli staff, approximately only half of delis fully cleaned their slicers less often than FDA’s specified minimum frequency.

The main delis guilty of this were in California, Minnesota, New York, New York City, Rhode Island, and Tennessee.

However, chain-owned delis and delis with statistically more customers and slicers were required to have manager food safety training, food safety-knowledgeable employees, written slicer-cleaning policies.

Interestingly, busier delis were actually more cautious about cleaning their slicers. Food safety-certified managers at these delis fully cleaned their slicers more frequently than independent delis did.

Officials note this problem could be larger than the scope of the study, since the survey participants could have answered in ways to positively reflect their particular deli.

Understanding the problem is one small step. Brown and colleagues reported, “…because frequencies of slicer cleaning were lower at independent and smaller delis, prevention efforts should focus on these types of establishments.”