Is Listeria Waiting at a Deli near You?

Standard cleaning procedures at retail deli departments may not eradicate Listeria monocytogenes bacteria, according to Purdue University research.1 This puts babies, people with compromised immune systems and older people at risk of a severe illness called listeriosis that can cause meningitis, sepsis and death. One bite of a contaminated ham sandwich could kill your elderly parent or grandparent. If a pregnant woman eats food tainted with Listeria, the bacteria can pass to her unborn child through the placenta, causing miscarriage or premature birth.

Our law firm is currently representing a family who lost a loved one to Listeria and a mother and her baby, who was born prematurely. This is an extremely dangerous pathogen, and this new research should be a wake-up call for deli owners to make sure their sanitation procedures work and that employees strictly adhere to them.

The Purdue study tested environmental samples collected at delis before daily operation had begun, presumably at a point when the deli would be at its cleanest. In the first sampling phase, the study found that 6.8 percent of samples taken in 15 delis tested positive for Listeria monocytogenes (mah-noh-sy-TAH’-gin-eez).

In a second sampling phase, the study tested samples collected throughout the day, once a month over a period of 6 months. A shocking 9.5 percent of samples taken in 30 delis tested positive for the bacteria.

Bacteria CDC

In 12 of the 30 delis, the same subtypes of the bacteria showed up in more than one month, meaning the bacteria was not being eradicated and continued to grow month after month.

About 30 percent of the delis involved in the study never tested positive for the pathogen, while some delis tested positive 35 percent of the time over six months. Although most of the positive samples were from floors, drains and squeegees, bacteria from these locations could cross-contaminate food.

If you are a health person, Listeria will give you mild, flu-like symptoms. Eating at a deli may be a risk you are willing to take. But this research suggests that people in the high risk groups should consider not eating uncooked food from a deli.

Listeria is so dangerous because its extremely small size allows it to easily pass through the intestinal membrane and into the bloodstream. It can then travel to the brain and cross the blood-brain barrier, or travel to the placenta in a pregnant woman, cross the placental barrier and infect the unborn child. In some cases, it causes damage to multiple organs. In most outbreaks almost all of the people sickened require hospitalization and about 20% don’t survive.

Up to 83% of listeriosis cases linked to deli meats in the United States are caused by products contaminated at the deli itself, not at a processing plant, according to the study. This alone suggests that there is a problem.

Because the incubation period for this pathogen can be as long as 70 days, few outbreaks of illness are linked to delis. However, this does not mean people have not become ill.

If you or a loved one (child, spouse or parent) has been diagnosed with listeriosis, our lawyers have the experience to help. Request a FREE consultation: click here now to use our online form or call 1-888-377-8900. We are a national food safety law firm, and our attorneys have won millions for clients in personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits against corporate wrongdoers.


1. Courtenay Simmons, Matthew J. Stasiewicz, Emily Wright, Steven Warchocki, Sherry Roof, Janell R. Kause, Nathan Bauer, Salam Ibrahim, Martin Wiedmann, Haley F. Oliver. Listeria monocytogenes and Listeria spp. Contamination Patterns in Retail Delicatessen Establishments in Three U.S. States. Journal of Food Protection, 2014; 77 (11): 1929 DOI: 10.4315/0362-028X.JFP-14-183.

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Category: Food Poisoning
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