The number of deaths linked to a Listeria outbreak from meat products in 2019 has doubled.

It had been thought 21 people were infected with Listeria monocytogenes in the Netherlands and Belgium. One person fell sick in October 2017, eight in 2018, and 12 in 2019. Three people died. All patients were hospitalized and one woman had a miscarriage. Two Dutch patients were pregnant women in their 30s. The others were from 64 to 94 years old and 10 were men.

Now it is known that Listeria in processed meats from Offerman, a Ter Beke subsidiary, made 35 people sick. Two women miscarried and six patients died. The information was revealed in the Dutch Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority’s (NVWA) annual report.

In late 2019, supermarkets, nursing homes, and company canteens removed millions of packs of meat products such as chicken and ham from shelves. Recall costs recorded by Ter Beke relating to Offerman in the Netherlands were almost €8 million ($8.9 million), according to the firm’s annual report.

Traceback to Offerman
About 70 to 100 people with listeriosis go to the doctor in the country annually, according to the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM).

Food samples were examined by Wageningen Food Safety Research (WFSR) and those from the processed meat company contained bacteria with the same DNA profile as bacteria from patients. The use of whole-genome sequencing allowed authorities to establish a direct link between the outbreak and the source.

Offerman had to temporarily close the site in Aalsmeer in autumn 2019 and had been battling to control Listeria for some time. Records from recent years show Listeria was discovered before at the company but the quantity was always below the legal limit meaning there was no direct danger to public health and that products could still be sold, according to the NVWA.

NVWA approved an improvement plan and production at the company started up again but the Aalsmeer site was partially closed by the company.

An analysis by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) did not identify the exact point of contamination but found it likely happened at Offerman.

RASFF and domestic alerts
NVWA devoted the largest percentage of its resources to food safety in 2019. The year also saw the merger of RIKILT Wageningen University and Research and the Laboratory for Feed and Food Safety of the NVWA to create Wageningen Food Safety Research.

The annual report also revealed the Netherlands has involved in slightly fewer Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) notifications with 853 compared to 870 in 2018.

Most were related to mycotoxins in nuts, nut products, and seeds from Argentina followed by the United States. Mycotoxins in black pepper and Salmonella in poultry from Brazil was third.

The number of alerts published by NVWA was about the same as 2018 with 174. Most reports concerned allergens and the agency called on businesses to pay more attention to the issue.

An investigation into the role of NVWA in abuses in slaughterhouses showed that, partly due to a lack of veterinarians at small and medium-sized slaughterhouses, the agency was not always able to supervise sufficiently. The shortage was largely solved by recruiting 71 veterinarians from EU countries, also in anticipation of increased activities due to the UK leaving the European Union.

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