More than two dozen food recalls so far this year due to contamination with deadly Listeria monocytogenes do not necessarily mark an increase, but they are involving a much broader range of foods and popular brands which the public has never before associated with the nasty pathogen.
And while Listeria-related recalls this year are numerous, only one of about 25 recalls to date is associated with an illness outbreak. Last year, there were four. But the one outbreak, linked to Blue Bell Creameries and involving 10 illnesses and three associated deaths, is another demonstration of Listeria’s high fatality rate.
The outbreak has rocked Texas-based Blue Bell, forcing it to recall all of its ice cream and related products from the market, shut down four manufacturing plants for deep cleaning, and lay off 1,450 full-time and part-time employees and furlough another 1,400 until ice cream production can resume.
Listeria is a bacteria found in soil and water and some animals, including poultry and cattle. Unlike most germs, Listeria can grow and thrive in cold temperatures. Once thought of as the “hot dog pathogen” for showing up in products such as cold cuts, this year’s recalls are showing that Listeria contamination now casts a much wider net.
Listeria this year is being discovered in all sorts of food manufacturing environments. It might be because more people are looking for it. Food manufacturers, state agriculture departments, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are among those who have discovered Listeria contamination this year, prompting the recalls.
Companies are finding it when they test their own food products and food-contact surfaces, and it’s being found by U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) investigators and state officials taking samples. The old suspect list for Listeria contamination included deli meats and hot dogs, refrigerated pâtés or meat spreads, smoked seafood, and raw milk products including soft cheeses such as queso fresco, Feta, Brie and Camembert.
This year’s recalls are expanding that list in all directions. Everything from many of those pricey organic brands to ice cream served at the White House are dealing with Listeria contamination threats in 2015.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 1,600 people in the U.S. get sick from Listeria bacteria each year. It is the third-leading cause of death from food poisoning, but that does not really tell the whole story.
The 30-percent fatality rate experienced in the current outbreak is not unusual. A 2008 Listeria outbreak in Canada associated with Maple Leaf cold cuts had a 40-percent fatality rate, and the 2011 Listeria outbreak caused by Colorado cantaloupe nearly matched that.
With the incubation period (the time from exposure to onset of illnesses) running more than two months, it can be especially difficult to trace an illness back to the food responsible for it. At least 90 percent of those sickened by Listeria are either pregnant women, newborns, or people older than 65, along with those with weakened immune systems.
Ice cream is tops as an unexpected source of Listeria. But it’s not only Blue Bell with the problem. Seattle’s Full Tilt Ice Cream had to recall all of its dairy-based ice cream on Jan. 2 because of Listeria in the ice cream base made by Snoqualmie Gourmet Ice Cream, which in turn had to recall nearly all of the previous year’s products. And Columbus, Ohio-based Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams recalled all its ice cream products on April 23 after Nebraska Department of Agriculture officials discovered Listeria contamination during sampling.
Consumer reaction is always strongest when a pathogen shows up in a favorite food that was previously thought of as “safe.” That’s been happening often as Listeria contamination is cutting an ever-wider circle. In March, a Bay Area Costco store recalled organic spinach dip, Amy’s Kitchen recalled 73,897 cases of its products — including such staples as vegetable lasagna, tofu scramble, and brown rice and vegetable bowls — and Wegmans recalled its organic frozen spinach — all due to Listeria contamination.
Old-fashioned Listeria contamination also occurred with Kenosha Beef International’s February recall of 21,427 pounds of ready-to-eat beefsteak patty products, the Rio Wholesale Meats March recall of 58,180 pounds of ready-to-eat beef products, and the Robber’s Roost Jerky April recall of four pounds of beef and pork jerky products. Of 80 USDA meat and poultry recalls that have occurred so far in 2015, only those three were for Listeria contamination.
Random sampling at retail locations by the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development discovered Listeria contamination that led to the recall of 30,000 cases of Classic Hummus by Sabra Dipping Co.
Phoenix-based Inventure Foods Inc. found Listeria within its facility and recalled its Fresh Frozen line of frozen vegetables and Jamba “At Home” line of smoothie kits. And, in the case of Greystone Foods, peas, corn, and broccoli products sold under the Today’s Harvest brand were recalled after a supplier reported field beans with snaps had tested positive for Listeria.© Food Safety News