Seven illnesses and one death have been reported in a hard-boiled egg Listeria outbreak that includes five states. Almark Foods of Gainesville, Georgia which produces the eggs and distributes them in plastic pails to foodservice operators nationwide has not issued a recall, so the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued a warning to foodservice companies that these eggs should not be used to prepare foods.
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The eggs sold have a shelf life of 49 days so they are likely still being distributed and sold in some locations. Products containing these eggs will generally not be labeled as containing products from Almark Foods, so consumers will not be able to tell if they have purchased a product containing these eggs. The eggs may be sold in stores as individual hard-boiled eggs repackaged by retailers, as part of packaged meals, or as components in ready-to-eat-foods like egg salad, deviled eggs, or green salads with eggs.
As of December 17, 2019, the CDC is reporting that seven people are known to have been sickened in this Listeria outbreak. Florida, Maine, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Texas have all had cases. Four of the patients were hospitalized. One death was reported in Texas
What is Listeria?
Listeriosis is an infection caused by a bacteria called Listeria Monocytogene. A person typically becomes infected by eating contaminated food. Listeria can make anyone sick, but people with compromised immune systems, older adults, very young children, and pregnant women are particularly susceptible. For pregnant women, their fetus is also at much greater risk.
Symptoms are typically flu-like in nature including: headache, stiff neck, fever, muscle aches and balance issues. Pregnant women often only have a fever, sometimes combined with muscle aches and fatigue. People usually don’t start having symptoms until one to four weeks after consuming the contaminated product and symptoms have been known to be delayed as long as 10 weeks after exposure in some cases.
The CDC used a genetic testing process called Whole Genome Sequencing to identify the genetic “fingerprint” of the Listeria strain responsible for this outbreak. The patients, who range in age from less than 1 to 82 years old, reported illnesses from April 10, 2017, to November 12, 2019. One of the illnesses was reported in a newborn who was infected while the mother was pregnant but survived. Infection of a newborn is one of the risks Listeria poses for pregnant women, it also causes miscarriage, stillbirth and premature delivery.
Health officials interviewed five of the patients about their food histories and four recalled eating products containing hard-boiled eggs before they became ill. They said they ate salads containing eggs at restaurants and deli salads containing eggs that they purchased from grocery stores.
In February 2019, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) collected environmental samples from Almark’s Georgia facility during a routine inspection. These samples were positive for a Listeria strain that is indistinguishable from the outbreak strain. The FDA is continuing to collect records from grocery stores and restaurants where the patients purchased salads containing eggs before they became ill.
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