The FDA and the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) of the USDA have announced the availability of two documents: a draft risk assessment on the relationship between foodborne Listeria and human health that considers 20 ready-to-eat food categories, and a risk management action plan based on the Listeria risk assessment.

The risk assessment reinforces past conclusions that foodborne listeriosis is a moderately rare but severe disease; supports the findings of epidemiological investigations of both sporadic illness and outbreaks of listeriosis; and states new case control studies are needed to reflect changes in food processing, distribution patterns, preparation, and consumption practices.

To reduce the risk of illness, FDA and FSIS advise consumers to use perishable items that are precooked or ready to eat as soon as possible, clean their refrigerators regularly and use arefrigerator thermometer to make sure that the refrigerator always stays at 40 degrees F or below.

The Joint Action plan, which is based on the draft risk assessment, proposes providing guidance for those that manufacture or prepare ready-to-eat foods; provide training or technical assistance for industry and food safety regulatory employees; redirect enforcement and regulatory strategies including microbial product sampling; new regulations and revisions to existing regulations as needed; enhance disease surveillance and outbreak response, enhance control measures for Listeria at retail/delis; conduct additional research such as exposure assessment studies; and enhance consumer and health care provider information and education efforts.

Written comments on the Action Plan and Risk Assessment can be received until March 20, 2001.