Although most delis keep food cold enough to reduce growth of Listeria monocytogenes (Lm) and other germs that cause foodborne illness and outbreaks, but one in six delis do not. That finding by a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study matters because Lm causes the third highest number of foodborne illness deaths in the United States each year. Lm contamination of sliced deli meats at retail locations is a major cause of listeriosis illness and outbreaks.

To prevent outbreaks, the FDA Food Code recommends that delis refrigerate deli meats and certain other ready-to-eat foods at 41ºF or colder. This reduces growth of Lm and other germs that cause foodborne illness outbreaks.

Key findings:

  • One in six delis had a refrigerator that was too warm.
  • Delis were more likely to have a refrigerator that was too warm if
    • The deli had more than one refrigerator.
    • Deli staff did not record refrigerator temperatures.
    • The deli manager was not certified in food safety.

Delis were more likely to refrigerate food at FDA-recommended temperatures if they

  • Had a kitchen manager certified in food safety.
  • Recorded refrigerator temperatures. Knowing more about how retail delis refrigerate food can help delis and food safety programs reduce risk of foodborne illness.

The CDC recommends that food safety programs and retail delis

  • Encourage or require kitchen managers to be certified in food safety.
  • Monitor and record refrigerator temperatures.

What Is EHS-Net?

This study was conducted by the Environmental Health Specialists Network (EHS-Net). EHS-Net is a federally funded collaboration of federal, state, and local environmental health specialists and epidemiologists working to better understand the environmental causes of foodborne illness.

Want more information?

Food Safety Practices Linked with Proper Refrigerator Temperatures in Retail Delis (scientific article this plain language summary is based on)

How Retail Delis Refrigerate Food[PDF – 326 KB] (fact sheet version of this page)

Retail Deli Food Safety Practices Study (study information)

More EHS-Net publications by Study Topic or Citation

More Food Safety Study Findings in Plain Language