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Listeria Lurking in Cold Cut Meats

Posted in Our Blog on April 18, 2019

Cold cuts: that’s what I call deli meats. I’m not sure how many sections of the country use this term, but in New York, if you’re in a grocery store and ask where the deli meats are, you are sure to encounter a few giggles, a raised eyebrow, or even scorn. Listeria in deli meat is a bigger concern than you may think.

Needless to say, I love sandwiches made with cold cuts. As a kid, my mom would dispatch me to the German pork store two blocks away to purchase bologna, a favorite staple in our house. Alas I digress, but it makes me a bit heartbroken when a recall is issued involving cold cuts, or deli meats.

Multi State Outbreak Reported

Recently, a Listeria outbreak has been linked to sliced deli meat, sickening eight people and causing one death. Three cases were reported in Pennsylvania, two in New York, two in Michigan, and one in New Jersey. This information was relayed by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). All eight individuals have been hospitalized.

Evidence points to the consumption of meats as well as cheeses that were sliced at various deli counters, including from delis and deli counters at several retail locations. However, a single common supplier of the products has currently not been identified. Additionally, the CDC has not advised that consumers avoid eating products prepared at delis, or that retailers stop selling deli meats and cheeses.

Listeria Outbreaks in the News

This isn’t Listeria’s first rodeo….

On November 20, 2018 the CDC conducted an investigation into an outbreak of Listeria monocytogenes implicated in four illnesses. These people had consumed pork products, and traceback evidence indicated that these pork products were from 165368 C. Corporation, which does business as Long Phung Food Products. As of January 29, 2019, the outbreak appears to be concluded.

On October 3, 2018, Johnston County Hams, Inc., in Smithfield, North Carolina voluntarily recalled ham products due to possibility of Listeria contamination. Subsequently, other companies recalled a variety of ham products. For a complete listing of the products, you can visit the USDA-FSIS and the FDA websites. The ready-to-eat ham products were produced between April 3, 2017 and October 2, 2018, and include:

  • Johnston County Hames, Inc. Country Style Fully Cooked Boneless Deli Ham
  • Ole Fashioned Sugar-Cured Old Dominion Brand Hams Premium Fully Cooked Country Ham with sell-by dates from 4/10/2018 through 9/27/2019
  • Padow’s Hams and 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 through 9/27/2019
  • Goodnight Brother Country Ham Bone

Foodborne Illnesses Have Been Around For a Long Time

People have been sickened by foodborne pathogens for centuries. Almost instinctively, even in prehistoric times people have taken measures to prevent food from spoiling. In the first century B.C., a philosopher named Lucretius hypothesized that “disease might be caused by invisible living creatures.” However, it wasn’t until the 19th century that Louis Pasteur and Robert Koch discovered these living creatures, called bacteria. Subsequently, it became increasingly understood how spoiled food the cause of a variety of illnesses could be. In 1926, one of these pathogens, Bacterium monocytogenes, was isolated by a scientist named Dr. Everitt Murray.This bacterium was later renamed Listeria monocytogenes after Dr. Joseph Lister, the doctor who forwarded the concept for surgeons to sterilize their surgical instruments before operations in order to prevent infection. Originally, listeriosis was thought to affect only animals, but as we now know, this concept changed after the first recorded human case in 1929.

Causes and Symptoms of a Listeria Infection

The bacterium Listeria is commonly found in soil and water and in some animals such as poultry and cattle as well as in raw milk and food made from raw milk. It is also known to be present in food processing plants, thereby contaminating processed meats. It can even grow and thrive at cold temperatures and is eradicated by cooking and pasteurization. Like most foodborne pathogens, you cannot see it, smell it, or taste it. It is common for people to become sickened by this bacterium after consuming deli meats that are not processed properly or from unpasteurized milk or dairy products.

Other potential sources of Listeria include the following:

  • Soft cheeses made with unpasteurized milk (queso fresco, Feta, Brie, Camembert)
  • Refrigerated smoked seafood
  • Ready-to-eat deli meats and hot dogs
  • Raw sprouts
  • Refrigerated pates or meat spreads

Typically, a listeria infection includes symptoms such as diarrhea, nausea, achy muscles, and/or fever. Because listeria has an incubation period of anywhere from three to seventy days, symptoms could show up a few days after contaminated food, or a couple of months. It is important to contact your health care provider if you have these symptoms.

Listeriosis is a very serious complication of a listeria infection, leading to hospitalization. Pregnant women are especially at risk because of an increased risk of this bacterium in their blood. If you are pregnant and are experiencing headache, fever, achy muscles, or back pain with or without diarrhea, contact your physician immediately.

Older adults, and those with immunodeficiencies such as diabetes, HIV/AIDS, cancer patients, and organ or bone marrow recipients are additionally at risk of this life-threatening complication because of greater susceptibility to infection.

Prevention of Listeria

No one wants to be sick, and that is especially true of becoming ill with a foodborne illness. Steps every person can take to avoid this possibility include:

  • Not drinking raw milk that is unpasteurized, or eating foods that are unpasteurized
  • Washing hands, knives, countertops, and cutting boards immediately after preparing and handling uncooked foods.
  • Thoroughly rinsing raw produce under running tap water before eating
  • Keeping uncooked meats, poultry, and seafood separate from vegetables and fruits and ready-to-eat foods
  • Thoroughly cooking raw animal meat, poultry, or seafood to their correct internal temperatures
  • Eating prepared and perishable foods as soon as possible

Additionally, if you suspect that an infection could have been caused by a foodborne pathogen, wash and sanitize the drawers and shelves in your refrigerators and freezers with hot, soapy water. As an additional step, you can use a solution of one tablespoon of liquid bleach in one gallon of water to sanitize even further. Don’t forget to wipe inside the doors and any drawers that can’t be removed.