The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued a warning after an outbreak of Listeria in multiple states prompted widespread concern. The agency is concerned for those at high risk of illness due to the outbreak, noting that the germ is hard to eliminate at the source. So far, 16 illnesses have been connected to the outbreak, including 13 hospitalizations and one death. Here’s what you need to know.
Why did the CDC issue a warning?
“You are at higher risk for severe Listeria illness if you are pregnant, aged 65 or older, or have a weakened immune system due to certain medical conditions or treatments,” the agency notes. “If you are in any of these groups, do not eat meat or cheese from any deli counter.”
Which products are impacted by the CDC’s warning?
At this time, there hasn’t been an official recall issued because it’s hard for the agency to narrow down which product is the source of the outbreak.
“Information collected so far shows that deli meat and cheese purchased at deli counters in multiple states are the likely sources of this outbreak,” the warning reads. “It is difficult for investigators to identify a single food as the source of outbreaks linked to deli meats and cheeses,” it continues.
“This is because Listeria spreads easily between food and the deli environment and can persist for a long time in deli display cases and on equipment,” the warning reads. The agency does note that the contamination is likely a food source that introduced the strain across many states through deli departments.
“Investigators are working to identify any specific products or delis that may be contaminated with the outbreak strain.”
What is Listeria?
The CDC explains that Listeria is a type of bacteria known to cause severe illness. Severe illness particularly happens when the bacteria spreads beyond the gut, and almost all severe illnesses “result in hospitalizations and sometimes death.”
“Symptoms of severe illness usually start within 2 weeks after eating food contaminated with Listeria,” the CDC notes, “but may start as early as the same day or as late as 10 weeks after.”
Symptoms of Listeria could include “headache, stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance, and convulsions, in addition to fever and muscle aches,” the CDC states.
What should high-risk people do?
Those at high risk for severe illness — including pregnant people, those with a weakened immune system, or those 65 years old or older — must avoid eating meat or cheese from any deli counter. The CDC does stipulate that it could be safe for those people to eat if it’s reheated to “an internal temperature of 165°F or until steaming hot.”
The agency also says people at high risk shouldn’t touch surfaces or objects that may have touched deli meat or cheese, including containers and the refrigerator. The CDC also says that if you are concerned anything in your fridge or in containers has touched something that could be infected with Listeria, to wash it with warm, soapy water. They also warn that anyone experiencing Listeria infection symptoms needs to contact their health care provider.
People who are not immune compromised are not likely to get severely ill from Listeria, the CDC claims.