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Int J Food Microbiol. 1992 Jul;16(3):173-82.

Is any strain of Listeria monocytogenes detected in food a health risk?

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Institute of Medical Microbiology and Hygiene, Faculty of Clinical Medicine Mannheim, Germany.


Listeria spp. have been isolated from various food items. This fact does not mean in any case a true health risk. A balanced appraisal should be based on quantitative as well as qualitative aspects. Actually, there is still an open debate whether a limited number of Listeria has to be tolerated at least in certain food items. In addition, the pathogenic potency of an isolate may be put into account. Pathogenicity of various Listeria spp. definitely varies. Most Listeria spp., except Listeria monocytogenes, can be regarded as harmless to man. Also, not all strains of L. monocytogenes are pathogenic: rough variants possess only reduced virulence; non-hemolytic mutants have completely lost their pathogenic potency. Furthermore, several other virulence factors may be lost under natural conditions, so that among the majority of hemolytic, pathogenic isolates there may be others which are non-pathogenic or of low virulence only. Unfortunately, these strains actually cannot be recognized and characterized by common laboratory tests, so that animal pathogenicity seems to be the only way to get a final conclusion on the health risk of an isolate of L. monocytogenes from any food. The problem raised by this is which animal test is able to predict a true health risk either for normal hosts or for immunocompromised patients?

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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