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State, Federal Health Officials Continue to Investigate Deadly Listeria Outbreak

State and federal health officials are still attempting to get their arms around a deadly two-state Listeria outbreak.

One death in California and seven illnesses in Maryland are blamed on the outbreak. All the victims are Hispanics, and among them are two mother-infant pairs and a newborn. All but one of the victims required hospitalization.

At this point, fresh cheese curd “likely produced” by Delaware-based Roos Foods and then repackaged by the Maryland-based Megamart food chain’s store in Virginia is the source of the contamination.

The first report of the evolving public health emergency came on Feb. 10 when the Listeria monocytogenes bacterium was isolated from a sample of Cuajada en Terron (fresh cheese curd) collected by food safety inspectors from the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

The sample, from a Megamart in Manassas, VA, was being sold in clear, unlabeled plastic bags held in the retail cheese display cooler in the grocery store. No lot or date coding information was included on the product packaging.

On Feb, 15, Virginia announced a public health warning, advising consumers not to eat the product and to discard it immediately. At that time, Virginia health officials were not aware of any Listeria illnesses or deaths associated with the bad cheese.

While numerous pathogens can be deadly, Listeria monocytogenes is especially feared because outbreak fatality rates of 20 to 40 percent have been experienced. Since Feb. 19, Maryland health officials have been warning the public not to eat cheese product made by Kenton, DE-based Roos Foods. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) followed with a Feb. 21 report linking the eight cases in two states.

Roos Foods brands named in the public health warning include: Santa Rosa de Lima, Amigo, Mexicana, Suyapa, La Chapina, La Purisima and Crema Nica. Onset of illness dates range from Aug. 1, 2013, to Nov. 27, 2013. Roos Foods issued a voluntary recall on Feb. 23 of certain Mexicana, Amigo, Santa Rosa De Lima, and Anita brand cheeses distributed in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C.

Listeria is known for its long incubation period, meaning people don’t get sick immediately after consuming a contaminated product. It can take as long as 70 days for the first symptoms – such as high fever, severe headache, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea – to show up in otherwise  healthy individuals.

Megamart is a Latino supermarket chain with five stores in Maryland – Silver Springs, Hyattsville, Riverdale, Rockville, Gaithersburg – and a sixth store in nearby Manassas, VA.

Health officials have not yet said if the California death is connected to food purchased at a Maryland or Virginia Megamart store.

Fatal illness cases of the Listeria monocytogenes organism usually involve young children, frail or elderly people and individuals with weakened immune systems. The infection is a major concern for pregnant women because it can cause miscarriages, stillbirths and neonatal illness.

© Food Safety News
  • gene

    “It can take as long as 70 days for the first symptoms – such as high fever, severe headache, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea – to show up in otherwise healthy individuals.”
    This is incomprehensible to me from both a physiologic as well as an immunologic and microbiologic framework, the only thing I can imagine is that Listeria lies in wait for the opportune stressor to initiate full growth. I’d love someone more knowledgeable than myself to offer an explanation.