How Common Are Cooked Chicken Listeria Outbreaks?

Tyson has recently recalled nearly 9 million pounds of cooked chicken in connection with a Listeria outbreak that has sickened three people killing one of them. The list of retailers affected by the recall is 133 pages long and includes stores in all 50 states, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the District of Columbia. The massive recall and deadly outbreak have consumers checking their freezers and wondering how common are cooked chicken Listeria outbreaks?

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Listeria – An Uncommon and Deadly Bacteria

Each year, millions of Americans suffer illnesses from food contaminated with viruses such as hepatitis and norovirus; parasites like Cyclospora; and bacteria including Listeria, E. coli, and Salmonella. Of these pathogens, Listeria is the least common. It causes the fewest number of illnesses annually – 1,600 cases each year compared with the 265,000 E. coli infections or 1.35 million Salmonella infections reported annually. But it has the highest death rate. For one-fifth of people who develop listeriosis, the infection will prove fatal.

Aside from its unparalleled lethality, Listeria differs from other pathogens in two key ways – it can survive freezing and thrives in cold temperatures that slow the growth of other bacteria. And it targets pregnant women, often with tragic results.

Pregnant women are 10 times more likely than the general population to contract Listeria infections, 24 times more likely if the expectant mother is Hispanic. These infections can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, premature delivery, and infection of newborns, even if the expectant mother shows no signs of illness. Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley discovered that the reason Listeria poses such dire risk to a pregnant woman is that once it is ingested it hides from her immune system in the placenta where it can and multiply into a significant force before invading the rest of her body.

Symptoms of a Listeria infection include high fever, severe headache, stiff neck, muscle aches, nausea, abdominal pain, and diarrhea. These usually develop within two weeks of exposure but sometimes can take as long as 70 days to develop.

Listeria Outbreaks in the U.S.

Only a fraction of the 1,600 cases of listeriosis reported in the U.S. each year are associated with an outbreak, an even smaller number are linked to multistate outbreaks. Between 2011 and 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced 22 multistate Listeria outbreaks.

Listeria outbreaks 2011-2021 by food source

The ongoing Tyson outbreak is the only one on that list linked to cooked chicken in the U.S. But a 2019 Listeria outbreak that was unsolved in the U.S. also included cases in Canada where it was linked to cooked chicken that had ties to both countries.  And way back in 2002, 27.4 million pounds of Pilgrim’s Pride brand poultry products were recalled in connection with a deadly Listeria outbreak. Below is a recap of each of those outbreaks.


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2021 Tyson Cooked Chicken Listeria Recall, Outbreak

On July 2, 2021, the CDC announced a cooked chicken Listeria outbreak that had sickened three people, killing one of them. The outbreak patients, who range in age from 60 to 95 years old, ate food containing the pre-cooked chicken in nursing home and hospital settings.

Health officials used genetic tests to identify the “fingerprint” of the Listeria strain that sickened these patients. Tests show all three of them were sickened by a Listeria strain with a matching fingerprint to one found in a sample of pre-cooked chicken processed at Tyson’s facility in Dexter, MO.

On July 3, 2021, Tyson issued a recall for 8.5 million pounds of cooked chicken products processed at its plant in Dexter. The recall was expanded 10 days later to include another half million pounds of products including chicken salad sandwiches, Caesar salads, and chef salads prepared by LSG Sky Chefs of Phoenix that were sold at Circle K stores in Arizona and Southern California.

Some of the brand names included in the recall are Casey’s General Store, Circle K, Jet’s Pizza, Little Caesar’s Pizza, Marco Pizza, Tyson, and Tyson Red Label. These products were sold nationally by: Amazon, Casey’s General Store, Dollar General, Kroger, Piggly Wiggly, Target, and Walmart; and at other stores in each state. In addition to retail locations, Tyson also sold the recalled cooked chicken products to hospitals, nursing homes, restaurants, schools, and Department of Defense locations.

Tyson cooked chicken Listeria recall

2019 Cooked Chicken Listeria Outbreak in Canada/Unsolved Outbreak in U.S.

In August 2019, the CDC announced a 13-state Listeria outbreak that had sickened 24 people, killing two of them. Genetic tests showed the outbreak strain closely resembled the strain linked to a Listeria outbreak in Canada that had sickened seven people in three provinces. This indicates that patients in both countries were exposed to the same contaminated food.

Canadian health officials linked illnesses there to Rosemount brand diced, cooked chicken which was distributed to cafeterias, hospitals and nursing homes. Rosemount issued a recall. During their investigation of the outbreak, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) found Listeria in a product produced by Tip Top Poultry, Inc. of Rockmart, GA. Tip Top issued a recall on August 20, 2019, for products sold under a variety of brand names in both countries, but the U.S. health officials never linked the outbreak to cooked chicken produced by Tip Top.

2002 Pilgrim’s Pride Cooked Chicken Listeria Outbreak

In 2002, Pilgrim’s Pride brand cooked turkey and chicken products were linked to a Listeria outbreak that sickened 46 people, caused seven deaths and three miscarriages or stillbirths. The products were produced at a Wampler Foods plant in Franconia, PA. Wampler was a division of Pilgrim’s Pride. After the products were linked to the outbreak, Pilgrim’s Pride recalled 27.4 million pounds of poultry products. At the time, it was the largest recall in USDA history.

Experienced Listeria Lawyers

The Food Safety Team at Pritzker Hageman has more experience handling Listeria lawsuits than any other law firm in the country securing some of the largest Listeria settlements in U.S. history including a recent award of $6.4 million for neurologic injury from a contaminated deli product.

If you were sickened in this outbreak or if your family experienced the wrongful death of a loved one and you would like to discuss your legal options, please contact our Listeria lawyers. You can reach us by calling 1-888-377-8900, sending a text to 612-261-0856, or by completing the form below. There is no obligation and we don’t get paid unless we win.

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