The country hams that some say are the quintessential dish of the South became, during this past weekend, suspects in a deadly listeriosis outbreak.

Four people, three in Virginia and one in North Carolina, have been confirmed as being infected with the outbreak strain of Listeria monocytogenes. All four required hospitalization. One in Virginia died.

The public first learned of the outbreak on Oct. 3 when Johnson County Hams announced a recall of 89,096 pounds of ready-to-eat ham products.

Epidemiologic, laboratory and traceback evidence indicates that ham products from Johnston County Hams Inc. are the likely source of the outbreak, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

That finding led to at least three other food recall announcements by late Oct. 5,

The CDC said public health investigators are using the PulseNet system to identify illnesses that may be part of this outbreak. PulseNet is the national subtyping network of public health and food regulatory agency laboratories coordinated by CDC. DNA fingerprinting is performed on Listeria and other pathogens that have been isolated from ill people by using a technique called whole genome sequencing (WGS). CDC’s PulseNet manages a national database of these DNA fingerprints to identify possible outbreaks. WGS performed on Listeria monocytogenes isolated from ill people showed that they were closely relatedly genetically. The CDC says this means that people in this outbreak are more likely to share a common source of infection.

Related recalls

Callie’s Charleston Biscuits has recalled the last 17 months of its production of Cocktail Ham Biscuits and Country Hames Biscuits.

Ukrop Homestyle Foods has recalled 18,296 pounds total of its 12 different wraps, pinwheels and salads that contain the ham.

Ladyfinger Caterers has recalled all Signature Shaved Country Ham Rolls it has on the market.

At this point, the Callie’s, Ukrop, or Ladyfinger products have not caused any illnesses, but Johnson County Hams is one of their suppliers.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) said the Johnson County Ham recall was for production from April 3, 2017, through Oct. 2, 2018. The company shipped the ham to distributors in Maryland, North Carolina, New York, South Carolina and Virginia. The FSIS notice did not say whether the distributors sent the products to other states.

The recalled hams weigh between 7 and 8 pounds (3.1 kg and 3.6 kg) and have the establishment number “EST. M2646” printed inside the USDA mark of inspection.

The CDC warns consumers, stores and restaurants not to eat, sell or serve recalled Johnson County Ham ready-to-eat products including:

  • Johnston County Hams Inc. Country Style Fully Cooked Boneless Deli Ham
  • Ole Fashioned Sugar Cured The Old Dominion Brand Hams Premium Fully-Cooked Country Ham with sell-by dates from 4/10/2018 to 9/27/2019
  • Padow’s Hams & Deli Inc. Fully Cooked Country ham Boneless Glazed with Brown Sugar
  • Premium Fully-Cooked Country Ham Less Salt Distributed by Valley Country Hams, LLC. with sell-by dates from 4/10/2018 to 9/27/2019
  • Goodnight Brothers Country Ham Boneless Fully Cooked

In addition to its voluntary downstream recall, Charleston-based Callie’s Biscuits announced the bakery was changing ham suppliers. Owner Carrie Morey says the bakery is switching back to the Edwards Virginia Smokehouse, its ham purveyor until an Edwards fire two years ago.

Morey says her bakery has tossed the ham inventory from Johnson County Hams and sanitizing its kitchen. Ham used in making biscuits is also heated to a sufficient temperature to kill the pathogen.  In her recall announcement, Morey said Callie’s had a plan in place “that we were hoping never to use,” but the business acted immediately “to ensure the safety of our customers.”

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