What You Need to Know About the February 2023 Listeria Monocytogenes Outbreak

According to Food Safety News, federal investigators from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are investigating a coast-to-coast outbreak of Listeria from an unidentified food source. According to the CDC, eleven people have been infected with Listeria monocytogenes bacteria across ten states, including Washington, Colorado, South Dakota, Missouri, Arkansas, Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina, and that ten of these patients have required hospitalization due to the severity of their illness. These patients have all tested positive for the same strain of Listeria, but what makes the CDC’s task so difficult in identifying a source is that while the most recent case was reported in February 2023, the earliest identified host of this specific strain was in July of 2018. The CDC has interviewed the infected individuals, following the typical protocol of examining their food consumption in the entire month prior to the onset of illness, as Listeria infection symptoms can take three to four weeks to manifest. They still haven’t found the source of this strain, and thus urge individuals to stay connected with the CDC’s social media platforms, practice safe food handling to prevent foodborne illness, and routinely check the news on food recalls and outbreaks.


How Can I Identify a Listeria Infection?

A Listeria infection can, indeed, be difficult to identify. Listeriosis can take up to 70 days to develop in the host of the bacteria, and it can often come from foods that seem harmless, showing no odor, discoloration, or signs of infection. The CDC notes that Listeria outbreaks were first linked to deli meats and hot dogs in the ‘90s, but today are often traced back to dairy products and produce, with recent outbreaks sourcing from soft cheeses, celery, raw sprouts, cantaloupe, and ice cream. These, however, are not the only foods in which Listeria can grow, so it’s important to err on the side of caution and seek medical help and laboratory testing. If you’re showing any signs of Listeriosis, including vomiting, nausea, aches, and neck stiffness, a medical professional can run tests to properly identify a Listeria infection.


How is Listeria Controlled?

On an individual level, the CDC recommends practicing safe food handling processes, particularly around hot dogs and deli meat. Ensuring that liquid from hot dog and lunch meat packages don’t cross-contaminate other foods, utensils, cutting boards, and kitchen surfaces is an important aspect of this that can often be overlooked. Moreover, they recommend following their practices for meat storage and handling, including storing opened hot dog packages for no longer than 1 week in the refrigerator, and opened deli meat slice packages for no longer than 3-5 days in the refrigerator. These practices, according to the CDC, are crucial for everyone, but especially for those at higher risk of Listeriosis, including pregnant women, the elderly, and those with other immunocompromising conditions.


On a more systemic level, food processing facilities, not just those focused on deli meats, must ensure vigilant safety protocols and readiness to prevent all foodborne illness outbreaks, including Listeriosis as a result of Listeria spread. Following the CDC’s recommendations for safety protocols is crucial, but going above and beyond to establish routines of decontamination and disinfection can ensure long-term prevention of bacterial growth in food products. 


Chlorine Dioxide as a Powerful Listeria Killer

One tool available to food manufacturers is chlorine dioxide, a powerful disinfectant that has eliminates Listeria at its source. Chlorine dioxide has a 6-log kill rate at proper treatment concentrations, and has been proven to eliminate Listeria in food processing facilities in a number of scientific reports. PureLine is home to a world-class team of engineers, food safety professionals, and experts in chlorine dioxide disinfection, with over 25 years of experience in halting existing outbreaks and preventing foodborne illness at its source. To learn more about how your food processing facility can partner with PureLine to prevent Listeria monocytogenes, Salmonella, Clostridium perfringens, Campylobacter, and Staphylococcus aureus outbreaks, fill out the form below and a representative will promptly be in touch.