December 10, 2022

History of Deli Meat and Cheese Listeria Outbreaks

Once again, a new Listeria monocytogenes outbreak linked to deli meats and cheeses has been reported by the CDC. These outbreaks have happened regularly since 2018, and cause serious illness and hospitalizations. The history of deli meat and cheese listeria outbreaks is deadly.

History of Deli Meat and Cheese Listeria Outbreaks

These products are susceptible to Listeria contamination for several reasons. First, this pathogen is very persistent and it can protect itself against regular cleaning products by producing a biofilm. Once it has been introduced into a deli environment it is very difficult to eradicate. The bacteria can hide in cracks and in machines that are difficult to clean, such as deli meat slicers. And since many establishments may not clean their slicers often enough or thoroughly enough, cross-contamination occurs.

Second, Listeria monocytogenes bacteria can grow at refrigerator temperatures. Freezing does not kill this hardy pathogen. So even if the deli meats and cheeses were properly refrigerated before and after processing, the bacteria can still grow.

And third, because these products are eaten without reheating, also called a kill step, any bacteria can cause illness. The CDC recommends heating deli meats to “steaming hot,” (more accurately, to 165°F), but most people don’t do this.

While Listeria is a risk in many soft cheeses because of high moisture content and low acidity, deli cheeses are different. Because of the environment, problematic cleaning methods, and the fact that the slicers are difficult to clean, any cheese, including firm and hard cheeses, sliced at delis can be risky.

History of Deli Meat and Cheese Listeria Monocytogenes Outbreaks

There is a current Listeria monocytogenes outbreak linked to deli meats and cheeses that has sickened at least 16 people in six states. Thirteen patients have been hospitalized, and one person, who lived in Maryland, has sadly died. Some of those sickened bought deli meats and cheeses from NetCost Markets in New York, but the CDC is investigating to see if other grocery store chains are involved.

In 2020, another deadly Listeria outbreak was linked to deli meats that sickened at least 12 people in four states. All twelve patients were hospitalized. One person who lived in Florida died. A specific type of deli meat or a common supplier was not identified.

In 2019, a Listeria outbreak was linked to deli sliced meats and cheeses. At least ten people who lived in five states were sickened. All ten people were hospitalized and one person died.

And in 2018, a Listeria monocytogenes outbreak was linked to Johnston County deli ham. At least four people in two states were sickened. One person who lived in Virginia died.

How to Protect Yourself

The easiest way to protect yourself against the risks of deli meats and cheeses is to simply avoid them. Most food safety experts recommend that anyone who is in a high risk group for serious complications of food poisoning, such as the elderly and pregnant women, completely avoid deli sliced meats and cheeses.

Remember that you cannot tell if any deli meat or cheese is contaminated with this pathogen from taste, aroma, texture, or appearance. Stay aware of recalls and outbreak announcements. If there is a recall, discard the item and then clean your refrigerator or freezer with a mild bleach solution to kill any remaining bacteria.

And if you do choose to purchase these items, keep them separate from other foods in the refrigerator, especially produce and other items that are eaten without cooking.

Attorneys at the Pritzker Hageman Food Safety Law Firm

If you have been diagnosed with a Cyclospora infection from contaminated food, please contact our experienced attorneys for help with a possible lawsuit at 1-888-377-8900 or text us at 612-261-0856. Our firm represents clients in lawsuits against grocery stores, restaurants, and food processors, and families in wrongful death cases.

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