On Monday, a major food production facility had to issue a voluntary recall on numerous products due to a possible contamination of vegetables sourced by their company. There were 98 different products included in the recall - affecting major retail chains, including Walmart, Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, Albertsons and many more across the country. This shows how quickly an issue at a single facility can lead to widespread, multi-state outbreaks. In 2015, an outbreak associated with a brand of packaged salads led to 19 hospitalizations and one death across 9 states.
Many people are also familiar with the major outbreak associated with Blue Bell ice cream, which caused 10 cases of listeriosis and 3 deaths. What was originally perceived as an isolated incident led to multiple recalls across 5 states.
According to the CDC, Listeria monocytogenes infects 1600 people each year and approximately 260 die. While this recall was made prior to any reported illnesses, it can take 2-10 weeks or longer to determine if someone was part of a Listeria outbreak according to the CDC. The bacteria can be especially dangerous to pregnant women with the ability to cause miscarriages or long-term health effects in the child. It is also more dangerous to adults over the age of 65.
Listeria is commonly found in:
- Soft cheeses made with unpasteurized milk
- Raw sprouts
- Hot dogs
- Lunch & deli meats
The USDA has numerous recommendations for facilities on prevention, including sanitizing utensils and equipment, taking apart ready-to-eat food processing equipment prior to cleaning, scrubbing surfaces to ensure listeria is not forming biofilms that become harder to clean, rotating sanitizers to ensure listeria is not establishing niches, and using low water pressure to ensure you're not spreading microorganisms unintentionally with splashing and overspray.
UV light for disinfection
Given the severity of the potential effects of this pathogen and how easily it can spread across the country, it is critical that facilities have a multitude of tools at their disposal. UV light has been proven effective against listeria (in addition to other pathogens, such as E. coli and Salmonella that cause foodborne illnesses). As an additional layer of protection, UV light can help reduce the risk of listeriosis and it has been proven as a promising bactericidal option in food facilities as it does not negatively effect the color, flavor, odor or taste of the product.