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Food business operators (FBOs) are the primary responsible for the safety of food they place on the market. The definition and validation of the product’s shelf-life is an essential part for ensuring microbiological safety of food and health of consumers. In the frame of the Regulation (EC) No 2073/2005 on microbiological criteria for foodstuffs, FBOs shall conduct shelf-life studies in order to assure that their food does not exceed the food safety criteria throughout the defined shelf-life. In particular this is required for ready-to-eat (RTE) food that supports the growth of Listeria monocytogenes. Among other studies, FBOs can rely on the conclusion drawn by microbiological challenge tests. A microbiological challenge test consists in the artificial contamination of a food with a pathogen microorganism and aims at simulating its behaviour during processing and distribution under the foreseen storage and handling conditions. A number of documents published by international health authorities and research institutions describes how to conduct challenge studies. The authors reviewed the existing literature and described the methodology for implementing such laboratory studies. All the main aspects for the conduction of L. monocytogenes microbiological challenge tests were considered, from the selection of the strains, preparation and choice of the inoculum level and method of contamination, to the experimental design and data interpretation. The objective of the present document is to provide an exhaustive and practical guideline for laboratories that want to implement L. monocytogenes challenge testing on RTE food.
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