Amid a flurry of recent Listeria warnings, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is warning consumers about a new outbreak – this time one that involves deli meat and cheese that has produced at least 16 illnesses, 13 hospitalizations, a miscarriage, and a death in six U.S. states, including California, New York, Illinois, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Maryland.
That number is frightening enough, but the agency said that the actual number of illnesses is probably higher because many people either don’t seek medical care and don’t get tested for Listeria.
Listeria is becoming a big problem. Some 19% of food recalls reported by the Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture involved Listeria, according to U.S. PIRG Education Fund’s analysis.
What specific meats and cheeses should consumers be on the lookout for?
“Deli meats (cold cuts, lunch meats, hot dogs, and pâtés sold at the deli) and cheeses are known sources of Listeria illnesses. This is because Listeria can easily spread among food on deli countertops, deli slicers, surfaces, and hands,” is the specific warning from the CDC.
The CDC added that it’s important for consumers to know that they can’t expect that refrigerating their deli meats and cheeses will do the trick, either, because Listeria is a hardy germ that can survive cold temperatures and is difficult to fully remove once it is in the deli. The only hot-or-cold thing that is a safe, preventative bet according to the CDC is reheating those items to 165 degrees or steaming hot.
Pregnant and those 65 or older should take extra precaution
The CDC is advising people who are pregnant, those age 65 or older, or anyone who has a weakened immune system should avoid eating any meat or cheese from any deli counter because Listeria can make people in these high-risk groups seriously ill.
The agency says if someone is suffering from headaches, stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance, and convulsions, in addition to fever and muscle aches, it’s a good possibility that they have consumed contaminated food.
“It’s stunning that we’re seeing another Listeria outbreak that took more than a year to identify. Past outbreaks involving foodborne illnesses have sometimes taken months or years before all of the cases could be linked. We need to have a better way to trace our food and track illnesses so more people aren’t put at risk,” Teresa Murray, Consumer Watchdog at U.S. PIRG Education Fund, told ConsumerAffairs.
“The CDC estimates that every year, 48 million people get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die from foodborne illnesses in this country. This is sad and avoidable -- and we need to stop this outbreak before it adds any more people to those numbers.”