Deli Items Are the Likely Culprit In New Deadly Listeria Outbreak, CDC Says
A fatal listeria outbreak affecting consumers from coast to coast has been traced back to deli meats and cheeses, according to an announcement that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) made last week. A total of 16 infections, 13 hospitalizations, one miscarriage, and one death have already been reported across six states.
Among the documented infections, seven occurred in New York state, another three in Maryland (including the fatal case), two were reported in Illinois and Massachusetts each, and a sole case was recorded in California and New Jersey. All infections took place between April 2021 and September 2022.
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While the CDC, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the Department of Agriculture (USDA) are still actively investigating the specific deli foods causing the outbreak, it is known that five of the infected New Yorkers had bought deli meat at a NetCost Market. The same grocery chain dealt with a Listeria outbreak in October 2021 but reopened following a CDC inspection at one Brooklyn location. However, investigators believe this new outbreak is linked to more delis and stores than just NetCost Market locations.
The ages of those infected ranged from 38 to 92 years old, with the median age being 72 years old. Curiously, the outbreak appears to be disproportionately affecting those of an Eastern European nationality. A total of 13 infected patients revealed their ethnicities to investigators: 11 have Eastern European backgrounds or speak Russian.
The CDC stresses that there are likely many, many more undocumented infections all over the country. Many people will likely recover without ever getting tested or reporting their illness.
Deli countertops, slicers, and surfaces in general are ideal environments for Listeria to grow and thrive. "Listeria is a hardy germ that can be difficult to fully remove once it is in the deli. It can survive and grow at cold temperatures in the refrigerator," the CDC explains.
Since meats and cheeses reside so close to each other in deli displays, it's usually very difficult, if not impossible, to pinpoint the exact cause of Listeria outbreaks. "A contaminated food likely introduced the outbreak strain of Listeria into delis in multiple states," says the CDC. "Investigators are working to identify any specific products or delis that may be contaminated with the outbreak strain."
Listeria is the third leading cause of food poisoning-related death in the United States. The bacteria is harmful to everyone, but older individuals (65+), pregnant women, and those with weakened immune systems are especially at risk. If you fall into any of those categories, the CDC recommends avoiding all meats and cheeses from deli counters "unless it is reheated to an internal temperature of 165°F or until steaming hot."
Severe Listeria symptoms can include fatigue, headache, stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance, seizures, and muscle aches. Additional common symptoms include diarrhea and vomiting.