The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is warning consumers that hard-boiled eggs are the likely source of an ongoing Listeria outbreak. The eggs are not being recalled, but the CDC has a food safety alert warning food service operators and consumers to be aware of the possible risk of Listeria contamination.
Information About Listeria Outbreak
Listeria monocytogenes is a bacterium that causes infection in humans. According to the CDC Food Safety Alert, the Listeria outbreak is impacting five states – Florida, Texas, South Carolina, Pennsylvania and Maine. At least seven people have become ill – four of which required hospitalization. One person has died as a result of this Listeria outbreak.
The strain of Listeria identified by the CDC is the same strain that caused three infections in 2017. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) states in a warning letter to Almark Foods that,
“Consuming foods contaminated with L. monocytogenes can lead to severe, sometimes life-threatening illness called listeriosis, a foodborne illness, which is a major public health concern due to the severity of the disease, its high case-fatality rate, its long incubation time, and its tendency to affect individuals with underlying conditions.
Information about Possibly Contaminated Hard-Boiled Eggs
The hard-boiled eggs in question are a product of Almark Foods in Gainesville, Georgia. The fresh egg products come in pails and are distributed nationwide to food service companies. From there, the eggs are used in a variety of ways. The hard-boiled eggs are commonly used to make egg salad, deviled eggs and salads and may be available at grocery stores, in restaurants or in schools.
The CDC says that it is difficult to determine whether the eggs may be present in salads and other products consumers buy after distribution. The agency is urging consumers to avoid hard-boiled egg products unless they know where the eggs came from. The CDC is urging food service operators to avoid using the Almark Foods eggs. They should not sell, serve or further distribute the eggs.
Months-Long Investigation Finds Listeria
In February 2019, the CDC conducted an inspection of the Gainesville Almark Foods facility. Out of 105 swab tests, Listeria was found in two swabs. One swab was taken from a floor drain at the end of a conveyor that comes into contact with food. Another swab was taken from an egg counter and stainless steel area where eggs are processed.
From March to June 2019, Almark Foods began new sanitation and cleaning processes and installed a new pallet washer and sump. In August 2019, reports of the Listeria outbreak began and the CDC made the link to the Almark Foods hard-boiled eggs.
Almark Foods is responding to the CDC by sterilizing the entire Gainesville plant. The company is not producing eggs while completing their sanitation and awaiting another inspection. This particular Almark Foods facility produces around 1.2 million eggs per day.
Dangers of a Listeria Outbreak
Listeria infection, also called listeriosis, can be dangerous if symptoms are not closely monitored. It is a difficult bacterium to track because patients with an infection may not have noticeable symptoms until one to four weeks after exposure. The most common symptoms include:
- Muscle pain
The CDC estimates that around 1,600 people suffer from Listeria infection each year. The agency reports that 260 people die each year due to the illness. The people most at risk for serious infection include pregnant women, newborn infants, people with a weak immune system and the elderly. Listeria is also dangerous to unborn infants. Infants can also contract Listeria infection from a mother who has the infection.
In high-risk populations, symptoms may be more severe. Consequently, worsening symptoms may indicate that the infection is spreading. Listeria infection can spread to the nervous system, the blood (septicemia) and the lining of the brain (meningitis). In such cases, additional symptoms include:
- Neck stiffness
- Changes in alertness
- Difficulty with balance
Anyone exhibiting these symptoms should get medical attention immediately. Even if the symptoms resemble a cold or flu, it is important to tell your doctor if you have eaten anything that may contain Listeria bacterium.
What to Do to Prevent Listeria Infection
There is no way to tell, for sure, that what you eat at a restaurant or from a grocery store is high quality and safe. There are some things you can do, however, to reduce the likelihood of Listeria contamination. The following preventative measures are helpful in preventing many foodborne illnesses:
- Rinse fresh fruit and vegetables before storing or preparing.
- Store raw meat and seafood separate from fruit and vegetables.
- Wash hands thoroughly after handling fruit, vegetables or raw meat.
- Sanitize surfaces where you prepare meat.
- Avoid unpasteurized milk and products that contain it.
- Cook meat thoroughly using a meat thermometer. Do not rely on the color of the meat.
- Store perishable items in the refrigerator with a temperature of 40-degrees or lower.
Have Questions about the Listeria Outbreak?
Do you have questions about the Listeria outbreak? The CDC is updating their Food Safety Alert online regularly. From there, you can track the states reporting illness and more. You can also follow Bad Food Recall, as we will update you on new developments.
Of course, if you have any of the symptoms of Listeria, you should contact your healthcare provider as soon as possible.