East Midlands food businesses that make, distribute and sell chilled, ready-to-eat products are to be given help and advice to help them keep their products safe from Listeria.

According to data from the Food Standards Agency (FSA) serious cases of laboratory-confirmed Listeria infection in the UK almost doubled between 2000 and 2009. In 2010 numbers decreased but were still higher than during the 1990s.

This bacteria can be found in a range of foods – particularly ready-to-eat meat products, pâtés, fish and prepared fruit and vegetables, but serious infection tends to occur only in people with reduced immunity, such as the over-60s, pregnant women, new-born babies and those undergoing long term treatments.

As the elderly and those with already-weakened immune systems are particularly at risk, the FSA is targeting food provision in the National Health Service as well as examining how these vulnerable groups store and handle food they buy themselves.

It is also targeting small and medium-sized food manufacturers, distributors and retailers to help reduce the risk of infection. Tests have shown most Listeria-related incidents have involved chilled ready-to-eat meats, meat products, cheese, fish and shellfish as well as sandwiches and sandwich fillings.

The FSA is working to encourage best practice and compliance among food manufacturers and enforcement agencies as well as better understanding of regulations relating to storage and shelf-life of high-risk, ready-to-eat products.

The Food and Drink iNet, which is run by trade organisation The Food and Drink Forum, is funding a six-month collaborative research and development project at The University of Nottingham working with the food hygiene specialists Diversey, to turn the spotlight on the issue.

As part of the project, a seminar is being run to give small and medium-sized businesses in the chilled food sector, guidance and advice about how to manage the risk of Listeria. The seminar will be held in the Plant Sciences Building at the University’s Sutton Bonington campus between 4 pm and 6.45 pm on Wednesday February 13.

Food and Drink iNet director Richard Worrall said: “It is important that food businesses are able to play their part in tackling the increase in cases of listeriosis.

“This event is particularly aimed at technical managers, production managers and owner-managers of small and medium-sized food businesses. Everyone attending will receive a guidance document containing the latest advice on how best to control Listeria.”

It will include a food industry update by Dr Cath Rees from The University of Nottingham, and Dr Karen Middleton, from Diversey will discuss good hygiene practices, before Dr Jerry Avis gives an introduction to the University’s Food and Biofuel Innovation Centre.

The Food and Drink iNet, which is part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), is managed by a consortium, led by the Food and Drink Forum and including Nottingham Trent University, the University of Lincoln, and The University of Nottingham. It is based at Southglade Food Park, Nottingham, with advisors covering the East Midlands region to offer a range of support to small and medium-sized enterprises that work in the sector.

To book places at the seminar email iNet advisor Jo Murphy at jo.murphy@foodanddrink-inet.org.uk and for more information visit www.foodanddrink-inet.org.uk

Dr Rees is Associate Professor of Microbiology within The University of Nottingham Food Sciences Division. Visit www.nottingham.ac.uk/biosciences/divisions/food/index.aspx

Diverseys is a sustainable cleaning, sanitation and hygiene business. It is part of the Netherlands-based Sealed Air Corporation, a global leader in food safety and security, facility hygiene and product protection. Visit www.diversey.com

Press release issued by Louise Duffield, Perfect 10 PR www.perfect10pr.co.uk