Over 90 percent of people who become infected with it are hospitalized. It carries a mortality rate of 20 to 30 percent. Symptoms can appear as early as the same day of exposure, or as late as 70 to 90 days after infection. It can live in cold temperatures, multiplies rapidly, and can live for years on equipment in places food is prepared.
And, it is back in the news because there are several outbreaks and recalls involving this particular pathogen – Listeria.
Here’s what you need to know about Listeria.
Listeria monocytogenes (commonly referred to as simply Listeria) is a type of bacteria found in soil and water and some animals, including poultry and cattle. It is widespread in the environment. Animals, particularly cattle, can carry L. monocytogenes without appearing sick and shed the bacteria in their feces.
Unlike many other foodborne bacteria, Listeria can continue to grow in cold temperatures – including in the refrigerator. It can withstand high temperatures as well and can tolerate both acidic and salty conditions. It can multiply rapidly, spreading from one food to another. Listeria can live for years (it stuck around for 10 years in one documented instance) on equipment in places food is prepared, including food processing plants, grocery stores, and delis. These qualities make Listeria a formidable threat, as it is hard to control and can cause intermittent contamination of food.
People can become ill with an infection called listeriosis after eating food contaminated with Listeria.
Listeriosis is a leading cause of hospitalization and death due to foodborne illness, especially in high-income, industrialized countries.
Not everyone exposed to Listeria gets sick from it, but when they do, it can cause serious illness. While infection is rare compared to other foodborne illnesses like Salmonella, Norovirus, Campylobacter, and E. coli, listeriosis is quite deadly. Even with adequate antibiotic treatment, the disease has a high mortality rate of 20 to 30 percent. Over 90 percent of people with listeriosis are hospitalized, often in intensive care units. Approximately one in five victims who become sick from Listeria die from the infection.
Symptoms of listeriosis can begin as early as the same day of exposure or as late as 70 days after infection (some have reported 90 days).
Listeriosis is particularly dangerous for pregnant women and their newborns, adults aged 65 or older, and people with weakened immune systems:
Listeriosis can cause fever, muscle aches, headache, stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance, and convulsions sometimes preceded by diarrhea or other gastrointestinal symptoms. An invasive infection spreads beyond the gastrointestinal tract. In pregnant women, the infection can cause miscarriages, stillbirths, premature delivery or life-threatening infection of the newborn. In addition, serious and sometimes fatal infections in older adults and persons with weakened immune systems. Listeriosis is treated with antibiotics. Persons in the higher-risk categories who experience flu-like symptoms within two months after eating contaminated food should seek medical care and tell the health care provider about eating the contaminated food. (source)
Listeria is killed by cooking foods to the proper temperature (165 degrees F) and pasteurization.
Common sources of Listeria include:
- Ready-to-eat deli meats and hot dogs
- Refrigerated pâtés or meat spreads
- Unpasteurized (raw) milk and dairy products
- Soft cheese made with unpasteurized milk, such as queso fresco, Feta, Brie, Camembert
- Refrigerated smoked seafood
- Raw sprouts
Some research suggests that cold cuts sliced at deli counters are more than five times as likely to be contaminated with listeria than pre-packaged cold cuts, usually because of in-store contamination. However, that does not mean that pre-packaged deli meats and cheeses pose no risk.
There are at least seven current recalls involving Listeria.
Check your refrigerators for these products – officials are recommending that you do not consume them. If you have already eaten them, monitor yourself for symptoms for the next few weeks at the least (remember, symptoms of Listeriosis can take 70 days or more to appear). In some cases, manufacturers are issuing refunds for affected products.
Consider Bardwell Farm cheese
Routine testing revealed Listeria contamination in finished cheese and the equipment made to make it, causing Consider Bardwell Farm LLC to recall products in five states, reports Food Safety News:
In a recall notice officials with the West Pawlet, VT, company said no confirmed illnesses had been reported as of today.
The notice, posted on the website of the Food and Drug Administration, says the company distributed the cheeses in California, Massachusetts, New York, Texas, and Vermont. The company did not include any information on specific retailers or distributors that received the cheeses. (source)
In a September 30 press release, the company listed the potentially contaminated products they are voluntarily recalling. To see the list of recalled products, click here, and to see the recalled batch numbers, click here. If you have purchased any of the impacted products, Consider Bardwell Farm recommends that you destroy them or return them to the place of purchase for a refund. Consumers with questions may contact the company at 802-645-9928.
In response to the recall, Whole Foods Market stores in the Northeast and North Atlantic regions are voluntarily recalling Dorset cheese, according to Food Safety News:
The affected product was sold at Whole Foods Market stores in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island. The affected product was cut and wrapped in plastic with a Whole Foods Market scale label, identifiable by PLU code 97776 with sell-by dates through 10/30/2019.
No confirmed illnesses had been reported as of the posting of the recall notice.
Customers who purchased this product at Whole Foods Market can bring a valid receipt into stores for a full refund.
Consumers with additional questions can call 1-844-936-8255. (source)
Multiple brands of frozen chicken products
On September 28, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced that “Tip Top Poultry, Inc, a Rockmart, Ga., establishment, is recalling an undetermined amount of ready-to-eat (RTE) poultry products that may be adulterated with Listeria monocytogenes”:
The frozen cooked, diced or shredded, RTE chicken products were produced between January 21, 2019 and September 24, 2019. The products subject to recall can be found in this spreadsheet.
The products subject to recall bear establishment number “Est. P-17453” inside the USDA mark of inspection. These items were shipped to institutions nationwide in the United States and Canada. (source)
Impacted brands in the US include Tip Top, Butterball, Perdue, GFS, Clean Eatz Cafe, Sysco, Delizous Farms, and West Creek.
To see the list of recalled products in Canada, click here: Food Recall Warning – Various cooked diced chicken meat products recalled due to Listeria monocytogenes
The USDA recommends throwing these products out or returning them to the place of purchase.
Deli trays in Canada
Metro Ontario Inc. is recalling Metro brand deli trays due to possible Listeria contamination. Consumers should not consume the recalled products described below, according to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). To see a list of recalled products, click here: Deli trays recalled in Ontario for possible Listeria contamination
Ready-to-eat pork products
Fisher Packing Company of Redkey, Indiana is recalling approximately 744 pounds of ready-to-eat pork products that may be contaminated with Listeria.
Here are more details from the USDA:
The RTE pork products were packaged on August 27, 2019. The following products are subject to recall: [View Labels (PDF only)]
- Vacuum-sealed packages of various weights containing “FISHER MEATS OLD FASHION SMOKED HAM” with a lot code of 19239 on the label.
- Vacuum-sealed packages of various weights of “FISHER MEATS SMOKED HAM SHANKS WITH NATURAL JUICES” with a lot code of 19239 on the label.
- Vacuum-sealed packages of various weights of “FISHER MEATS CANADIAN BACON” with a freeze by date of 11/25/19 and a lot code of 19239 on the label.
The recalled products have establishment number “74SEIN” inside the USDA mark of inspection. They were shipped to retail locations in Indiana. Consumers who have purchased these products are urged not to consume them. These products should be thrown away or returned to the place of purchase.
Brandt brand Extra Lean Kolbassa Sausage
G. Brandt Meat Packers Ltd. is recalling Brandt brand Extra Lean Kolbassa Sausage from the marketplace due to possible Listeria contamination. In a recall notice, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is urging people to check their homes for the recalled product and states that the recalled products should be thrown out or returned to the store where they were purchased. For specific details on this recall, please click here: CFIA/ACIA Food Recall Warning
Bagged salad kits and kale
Randsland Farms Inc. is recalling bagged salad kits and kale because federal inspectors found they are potentially contaminated with Listeria, reports Food Safety News.
Randsland Farms distributed the implicated products in New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Nova Scotia. The Randsland branded “Super Salad” kits and bagged kale should not be consumed, according to the recall notice.
For specific product details, click here: Updated Food Recall Warning – Randsland brand Super Salad Kit and Randsland brand Kale recalled due to Listeria monocytogenes
Nationwide salmon recall in the US
Euphoria Fancy Food Inc. of Brooklyn, NY is recalling some of its packages of “CAPITAN K” salmon slightly salted pieces because they may be contaminated with Listeria, the FDA is reporting:
The recalled “CAPITAN K” salmon slightly salted pieces were distributed nationwide in retail stores and through mail orders. The product comes in 7.05 oz, vacuum package marked with various container codes and best by dates. The product UPC code is 607059000362.
No illnesses have been reported to date and connection with this problem.
The contamination was discovered after sampling by New York State Department of Agriculture and Market Food Inspectors and subsequent analysis by Food Laboratory personnel revealed the presence of Listeria monocytogenes in 7.05 oz vacuum packages of “CAPITAN K” salmon slightly salted pieces.
Consumers who have purchased 7.05 oz vacuum packages of “CAPITAN K” salmon slightly salted pieces are urged to return them to the place of purchase for a full refund. Consumers with questions may contact the company at 718-768-3400. (source)
A Florida business is closing after its stores were closed due to Listeria contamination.
Penn Dutch, which sold meat, poultry, and seafood at two locations in Broward County, Florida, recently filed for liquidation after closing its stores in September because of Listeria contamination.
Food Safety News provides additional details:
After both locations were found infected with listeria, management voluntarily closed the original Hollywood, FL, store and was then forced to comply with a state order that closed the 15-year old Margate, FL, store. It was the second time in a year Penn Dutch was ordered to close at Margate.
Penn Dutch, however, then ignored the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FSACS) by holding a going-out-of-business sale at the Margate store, stirring more controversy.
On Sept. 19, FSACS acted “after Penn Dutch violated multiple stop-use and stop-sale orders and endangered public health by possibly distributing food products contaminated with Listeria pathogens.”
As with any department inspection process, Penn Dutch was provided an opportunity to remedy the situation by disposing of possibly dangerous contaminated products and sanitizing tools and workspaces.
“It’s unfortunate that Penn Dutch chose to disregard our directives and endanger public safety,” said Commissioner Nikki Fried.
“Moving equipment, products, and people in and out of the Listeria monocytogenes positive areas increases the potential for the spread of pathogens and exposes Penn Dutch’s customers and employees to a pathogenic bacteria capable of creating a serious health risk. As the state’s consumer watchdog, our department takes potential foodborne illness extremely seriously, and the Listeria bacteria have a 20 percent mortality rate.” (source)
A ready-to-eat food manufacturer has been issued a warning letter due to Listeria contamination.
Flying Food Group, a ready-to-eat food manufacturer, was recently issued an FDA warning recently for multiple violations involving Listeria.
Inspectors found serious violations of the Current Good Manufacturing Practice, Hazard Analysis, and Risk-Based Preventive Controls for Human Food regulation, including the presence of Listeria in the facility. Here are some excerpts from the warning letter:
During the inspection, FDA collected environmental samples (i.e., swabs) from various areas in your processing facility. FDA laboratory analyses of the environmental swabs found the presence of Listeria monocytogenes (L. monocytogenes), a human pathogen, in your facility, including the same strain found during FDA’s 2018 & 2017 inspections.
You manufacture RTE foods that are exposed to the environment at several steps (e.g., meat slicing, produce cutting, batching, assemble product) where the food could be contaminated with environmental pathogens, such as L. monocytogenes, and the food does not receive a subsequent control for environmental pathogens.
Furthermore, eleven environmental swabs collected by FDA during our most recent inspection were positive for L. monocytogenes. Of the eleven positive swabs, five swabs were collected from food contact surface areas, and six swabs were collected from areas adjacent to food contact surface areas.
The presence of the same strain of L. monocytogenes over multiple years indicates that there has been a resident pathogen in your facility since 2017.
These findings demonstrate that your sanitation procedures have been inadequate to significantly minimize or prevent L. monocytogenes in your facility. (source)
The CDC is currently investigating a multi-state outbreak of listeriosis.
As of August 23, 2019 (the date of the last update), 24 people infected with the outbreak strain of Listeria monocytogenes have been reported from 13 states, according to the CDC:
Of 23 ill people with information available, 22 hospitalizations have been reported.
Two deaths have been reported.
A specific food item, grocery store, or restaurant chain has not been identified as the source of infections in the United States.
This investigation is ongoing. CDC will provide updates when more information is available. (source)
Here’s what you need to know to avoid infection.
People at higher risk for severe Listeria infection should handle deli-sliced meats and cheeses carefully to prevent illness.
Retailers should clean and sanitize deli slicers frequently and other areas where deli products are prepared, stored, or served to avoid cross-contamination.
Here’s a list of additional tips from Foodsafety.gov:
- Do not drink raw (unpasteurized) milk, and do not eat foods that have unpasteurized milk in them.
- Wash hands, knives, countertops, and cutting boards after handling and preparing uncooked foods.
- Rinse raw produce thoroughly under running tap water before eating.
- Keep uncooked meats, poultry, and seafood separate from vegetables, fruits, cooked foods, and ready-to-eat foods.
- Thoroughly cook raw food from animal sources, such as meat, poultry, or seafood to a safe internal temperature.
- Wash hands, knives, countertops, and cutting boards after handling and preparing uncooked foods.
- Consume perishable and ready-to-eat foods as soon as possible.
- Persons in higher-risk groups should heat hot dogs, cold cuts, and deli meats before eating them.
What do you think?
Are there things you do to avoid infection with foodborne illnesses like Listeria? Please share your thoughts and ideas in the comments.
About the Author
Dagny Taggart is the pseudonym of an experienced journalist who needs to maintain anonymity to keep her job in the public eye. Dagny is non-partisan and aims to expose the half-truths, misrepresentations, and blatant lies of the MSM.