The United States is one of more than 20 countries that may have received meat from a German company linked to a Listeria outbreak.

Potentially contaminated products from Wilke Waldecker Fleisch- und Wurstwaren were distributed to the U.S., according to the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF).

Food Safety News has contacted the Food Safety and Inspection Service at the U.S. Department of Agriculture for information. A spokesman said the agency was not aware of any potential recalls related to sausages imported from Germany and Wilke is not certified as eligible to export to the U.S.

Other affected nations include Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Lebanon, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal, Russia, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.

More than 1,000 items recalled

Products made by Wilke have been recalled. German authorities are updating a document with affected products that is now 13 pages long. They can be recognized by the oval identification mark “DE EV 203 EG”, which identifies the manufacturer regardless of the brand. Items could have been sold loose and to hospital kitchens and canteens.

Officials in the Waldeck-Frankenberg district of Germany stopped production at the facility in Twistetal, Berndorf in early October. The company has since filed for bankruptcy.

According to the German branch of consumer organization Foodwatch, there was suspicion of Listeria in mid-August and hygiene deficiencies at the factory found at the end of August but a follow-up inspection in September revealed these issues were mostly corrected.

The group accused authorities of being too slow in crisis management and not sharing sufficient information.

Atria, a retailer in Sweden, recalled all the dates of six products from the Wilke range. None of the salami products have tested positive for Listeria. Deli Drengene ApS in Denmark recalled snack sausages as Listeria was found at the production company in Germany.

In Luxembourg, some of the products were marketed in catering establishments. Authorities contacted the institutions concerned to check compliance with withdrawal measures and initial results show recalls have been made. Official samples are being taken to do lab tests on these items. Based on current information, the direct distribution of products to the consumer did not take place.

Sporadic infections since 2014; none sick in other countries

The outbreak involves a Listeria monocytogenes sequence cluster type 2521 (serogroup IIa). It was identified last year by whole genome sequencing and 37 people are involved from 12 German states. So far, no related illnesses have been reported from other European countries.

In 2014, 2016 and 2017, a few sporadic cases were found, which have been retrospectively assigned as belonging to the outbreak. One infection was recorded in 2014, three in 2016 and four in 2017.

Genome sequences of the Listeria isolates are closely related so it can be assumed that patients have become infected by a common source, according to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI).

In mid-2018, there was an increase with 21 cases detected by genome sequencing at RKI. This year, eight more infections were found with the last known disease onset date being July 13, 2019. Most people were infected by eating food in healthcare facilities.

The age range of affected people is between 31 and 91 years. There are 18 women and 19 men but no pregnancy-related cases. Three people are reported to have died with listeriosis as a contributing factor. Ten other people infected with Listeria died but not as a consequence of listeriosis and for one patient the cause of death could not be determined.

The Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) and the Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety (BVL) looked at supply chains and food samples. Investigations compared a Listeria isolate from a food of the company near Hesse with patient isolates of the outbreak, finding a close relationship between them.

In 2018, 701 reports of invasive listeriosis in Germany were submitted to the RKI.

Elderly and immunocompromised people, expectant mothers and newborn babies have an increased risk of contracting listeriosis.

Symptoms of the infection can include vomiting, nausea, persistent fever, muscle aches, severe headache, and neck stiffness. The time between becoming infected and developing symptoms varies from a few to 70 days with an average of three weeks.

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