April 4, 2020

Texas Cheese Listeria Update Highlights Advanced Technique

Les-Freres-CheeseNow that a Texan has contracted listeriosis linked to the Crave Brothers cheese Listeria outbreak, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has announced a new phase of its investigation into the dangerous cluster of food poisoning illnesses. In an announcement from Atlanta this week, the CDC said it has employed the advanced technology of whole genome sequencing to more accurately define the outbreak strain of Listeria monocytogenes. This highly discriminatory subtyping method will help clarify which patients’ illnesses across the country are related to the outbreak, which now has six confirmed case patients.

Listeria lawyer Fred Pritzker, whose food poisoning law firm has been conducting its own investigation of the outbreak, applauded the move as a potential harbinger of better things to come in foodborne illness investigations. “It advances the use of a technology that brings a new level of detail and speed to foodborne illness probes,” said Pritzker, who has represented case patients in several multi-million dollar Listeria settlements. The attorney said whole genome sequencing also should enable the public health community to identify smoldering national outbreaks from a single food source that aren’t currently being detected. That’s because traditional mapping of food poisoning outbreaks relies on heavy clusters or unusual types of pathogens that stand out from average occurrence rates of Listeria, E. coli, Salmonella, Campylobacter and other harmful organisms that contaminate food, Pritzker said.

The CDC explained in a document issued late this week that the  standard DNA fingerprint of the Listeria type associated with the Crave Brothers outbreak  is typically associated with about 14 cases per year that aren’t necessarily recognized as being part of any outbreak. Finding the exact molecular pattern of Listeria recovered from the cheese that was recalled by Crave Brothers will allow investigators to more confidently match listeriosis patients with the outbreak. Including the latest case patient from Texas, there are now six people who are known to have been sickened. All six have been hospitalized, including a Minnesotan who died and a pregnant woman who lost her baby in a miscarriage.

CDC is requesting dedicated Fiscal Year 2014 funding to further incorporate whole genome sequencing into its food poisoning outbreak investigations and other control efforts to stop threats in our food supply. The agency estimates that 1 in 6 Americans—or 48 million people—get sick from contaminated food each year—costing the United States $77 billion per year in health care treatment, workplace, and other economic losses.

The contaminated soft cheeses associated with the current outbreak of Listeria monocytogenes are Les Freres, Petit Frère, and Petit Frère with Truffles, all made by Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese Company of Waterloo, Wisconsin. In conjunction with the FDA, the company issued a cheese Listeria recall on July 3.

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