ALEXANDRIA, Va.—Deli meats and cheeses are the source of a deadly outbreak of listeria in six states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sixteen people have been sickened by the bacteria, 13 people have been hospitalized and one death has occurred.
The CDC believes the source of listeria is from meat and cheese purchased at deli counters, but it has not identified a single food as the source of outbreaks.
“Listeria spreads easily between food and the deli environment and can persist for a long time in deli display cases and on equipment,” according to the CDC. “A contaminated food likely introduced the outbreak strain of Listeria into delis in multiple states.”
So far, seven people in New York have reported a listeria infection, three in Maryland, two in Illinois, two in Massachusetts, one in California and one in New Jersey. Those infected ranged in age from 38 to 92, with an average age of 74, and 62% of those sickened were men.
The true number of sick people in this outbreak is likely higher than the number reported, and the outbreak may not be limited to the states with known illnesses, according to the CDC. This is because some people recover without medical care and are not tested for listeria.
State and local public health officials are interviewing people about the foods they ate in the month before they got sick. Of the 12 people interviewed, 11 reported eating meat or cheese from deli counters. Among seven sick people in New York, five bought sliced deli meat or cheese from at least one location of NetCost Market, a grocery store chain that sells international foods. Sick people from other states purchased deli meats or cheeses from other delis.
Symptoms of listeria usually occur within four weeks of infection but can take as long as 70 days to appear. Those who are at highest risk of listeria infection are those older than age 65, with a weakened immune system or pregnant.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently proposed a new rule on food traceability to establish additional traceability record-keeping requirements (beyond what is already required) for entities that manufacture, process, pack or hold any foods included on the FDA’s Food Traceability List.
In February 2021, NACS submitted comments to the FDA on its then proposed rule to establish additional traceability record-keeping requirements for certain foods, based on Section 204 of the Food Safety Modernization Act, as part of the New Era of Smarter Food Safety initiative.
NACS signaled support for efforts to boost food traceability and safety in the food system. However, expressed concern that small retailers, which represent 60.4% of all convenience stores in the United States, would not be able to meet the proposed additional record-keeping requirements.
NACS staff is currently reviewing this latest proposal to determine its impact on convenience industry retailers.
NACS has several food-safety resources for foodservice providers and also offers a free webinar on how to build a strong and effective food safety and cleanliness culture. The webinar, “The Case for Cleanliness,” is available to view on demand.