In April, there were eight recalls due to Listeria monocytogenes in a variety of food products, including frozen vegetables, ice cream, and even hummus. This bacterium is especially dangerous for pregnant women, newborns, the elderly and the immunocompromised because it can potentially evade the immune system and pass through the blood-brain and placental barriers.
While a mild, non-invasive illness (called listerial gastroenteritis) occurs in healthy individuals, a life-threatening illness (called invasive listeriosis) can occur in high-risk individuals, often manifesting as meningitis or encephalitis and causing still-births. In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that this foodborne pathogen causes 1,591 illnesses each year and more than $2.8 billion in associated healthcare costs, not including the economic burden to industry.
Ubiquitous in the environment, Listeria is especially tough to control since it can survive freezing temperatures and can slowly grow at refrigeration temperatures. In addition, it has a remarkable ability to form biofilms—a protective matrix of proteins—which shields it from a variety of sanitation measures and boggles the minds of even the best food safety experts. The abundance of Listeria-related recalls and outbreaks show that more research is needed to improve sanitation controls and monitoring programs to identify and eliminate this deadly pathogen from food processing environments.
Sabra—one of the largest hummus producers in the country—was forced to recall 30,000 cases early in the month.
Listeria found in Bluebell Ice Cream was linked to a larger outbreak spanning from January 2010 all the way to January 2015, causing illness in 10 people and killing three. Bluebell’s first recall started in March, but in April the company expanded the list to include all its products.
Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, after also finding in Listeria in their ice cream, issued a recall of all its products out of an abundance of caution.
Unfortunately, public health officials are expecting more illnesses due to the extended shelf-life of frozen products and the long incubation period of invasive listeriosis. In Listeria, this incubation period—the time from when a victim ingests something contaminated to when they show symptoms—can vary from three to 70 days.
To keep up-to-date with the latest recalls cause by Listeria and other harmful pathogens, be sure to check recalls from the FDA.
If you have questions about a product, you can call 1-888-SAFEFOOD Monday through Friday between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Eastern time, or to consult http://www.fda.gov.
To learn more about listeriosis click here.