Listeria Outbreak Linked to Deli Meat and Cheese

By on November 10, 2022 0 195Views

CDC, public health and regulatory officials in several states, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (USDA-FSIS), and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are collecting different types of data to investigate a multistate outbreak of Listeria monocytogenes infections.

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. Investigators are still working to identify any specific products or delis that may be contaminated with the outbreak strain.

It is difficult for investigators to identify a single food as the source of outbreaks linked to deli meats and cheeses. 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. A contaminated food likely introduced the outbreak strain of Listeria into delis in multiple states. Investigators are working to identify any specific products or delis that may be contaminated with the outbreak strain.

Listeria in Deli Meat and Cheese

Deli meats (cold cuts, lunch meats, hot dogs, and pâtés sold at the deli) and cheeses are known sources of Listeria illnesses. This is because Listeria can easily spread among food on deli countertops, deli slicers, surfaces, and hands. 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.

As of November 9, 2022, 16 people infected with the outbreak strain of Listeria have been reported from 6 states. Those who have been impacted provided samples that have been collected from April 17, 2021, to September 29, 2022. 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. This is because some people recover without medical care and are not tested for Listeria. In addition, recent illnesses may not yet be reported as it usually takes 3 to 4 weeks to determine if a sick person is part of an outbreak.

Of 14 people with information available, 13 have been hospitalized. One person got sick during their pregnancy, resulting in pregnancy loss. Additionally, one death has been reported from Maryland.

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.

Investigators do not believe that NetCost Market delis are the only source of illnesses because some sick people in the outbreak did not shop at a NetCost Market. A contaminated food likely introduced the outbreak strain of Listeria into delis in multiple states.

In 2021, health officials in New York state and New York City found the outbreak strain of Listeria in several environmental and food samples:

  • Environmental samples from a NetCost Market deli in Brooklyn
  • Several open packages of mortadella and ham that were sliced at the same NetCost Market deli in Brooklyn
  • Sliced salami that a sick person bought from a NetCost Market deli in Staten Island

NetCost Market voluntarily closed the deli temporarily in Brooklyn after New York officials

In September 2022, the outbreak strain was found at the same Brooklyn NetCost Market deli; however, the most recent illness with NetCost Market exposure was in October 2021. After a deep cleaning, additional environmental testing did not identify Listeria in the deli.

What People at High Risk Should Do

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. If you are not in these groups, you are unlikely to get very sick from Listeria. If you are at higher risk:

  • Do not eat meat or cheese from any deli counter, unless it is reheated to an internal temperature of 165°F or until steaming hot.
    • This is because Listeria can grow on foods kept in the refrigerator, but it is easily killed by heating food to a high enough temperature.
  • Clean your refrigerator, containers, and surfaces that may have touched deli meat or cheese from the deli.
  • Call your healthcare provider right away if you have any symptoms of severe Listeria illness after eating meat or cheese from a deli:
    • People who are not pregnant may experience headache, stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance, and convulsions, in addition to fever and muscle aches.
    • Pregnant people usually experience only fever, fatigue, and muscle aches. However, Listeria can cause pregnancy loss or premature birth. It can also cause serious illness or death in newborns.

About Listeria

  • Listeria can cause severe illness (known as invasive listeriosis) when the bacteria spread beyond the gut to other parts of the body.
    • Almost all severe illnesses from Listeria result in hospitalizations and sometimes death.
  • Symptoms of severe illness usually start within 2 weeks after eating food contaminated with Listeria, but may start as early as the same day or as late as 10 weeks after.
    • People who are not pregnant may experience headache, stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance, and convulsions, in addition to fever and muscle aches.
    • Pregnant people usually experience only fever, fatigue, and muscle aches. However, Listeria can cause pregnancy loss or premature birth. It can also cause serious illness or death in newborns.
  • Pregnant people and their newborns, adults 65 years or older, and people with weakened immune systems are at higher risk for severe illness.
    • Other people can be infected with Listeria, but they usually get mild food poisoning symptoms, like diarrhea and fever, and usually recover without treatment.

For more information about Listeria, see the Listeria Questions and Answers page.