|Food Safety and Inspection
United States Department of Agriculture
Washington, D.C. 20250-3700
Congressional and Public Affairs
Steven Cohen (202) 720-9113
WASHINGTON, Oct. 2, 2002– The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, in cooperation with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state health officials, is continuing its aggressive investigation into the origins of an outbreak of Listeria monocytogenes in FSIS regulated products that has led to 6 deaths and 36 illnesses in eight states.
"Working with state health officials, FSIS investigators have been probing every possible lead in an attempt to narrow the list of possible sources of contamination," said FSIS Administrator Dr. Garry L. McKee. "Multiple samples have been collected and analyzed, but as yet, all have tested negative."
While 36 cases of illness have been linked, 120 illnesses and 20 deaths have been attributed to Listeria monocytogenes. FSIS took the initiative in early September to begin vigorous sampling of FSIS-regulated products when illnesses associated with Listeria monocytogenes began appearing in Northeastern states. FSIS-regulated products that may be associated with Listeria monocytogenes include luncheon meats and deli-style products. Non FSIS regulated products possibly implicated in illnesses include seafood, soft cheeses and unpasteurized milk.
To date, FSIS’ Microbial Outbreaks and Special Projects (MOSPB) laboratory in Athens, Ga., has conducted more than 200 tests on products that the agency regulates. Additional samples have been collected in the past several days and the MOSPB laboratory is in the process of analyzing them. Test results on these samples should be complete this week.
"FSIS is drawing from all areas of expertise within the agency to aid in this investigation," said McKee. "More than 50 scientists at FSIS’ laboratories, regional epidemiologists, consumer safety officers, compliance officers and personnel in the field and at USDA headquarters, are working to find the source of this outbreak."
McKee added that the CDC has been interviewing people sickened by Listeria monocytogenes and continues to share information with FSIS and state health officials. Those interviews have been continuing.
In an effort to keep consumers informed, FSIS will continue to issue Public Health Updates on this outbreak as information becomes available.
Consumption of food contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes can cause listeriosis, an uncommon but potentially fatal disease. Healthy people rarely contract listeriosis. Listeriosis can cause high fever, severe headache and nausea. However, listeriosis can also cause miscarriages and stillbirths, as well as serious and sometimes fatal infections in infants, seniors, and persons with compromised immune systems.
Consumers with food safety questions can phone the toll-free USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-800-535-4555. The hotline is available in English and Spanish and can be reached from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. (Eastern Time) Monday through Friday. Recorded food safety messages are available 24 hours a day.
FSIS, a public health regulatory agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, protects consumers by ensuring that meat, poultry, and egg products are safe, wholesome and accurately labeled.
NOTE: Access news releases and other information at the FSIS Web site at http://www.fsis.usda.gov
To prevent foodborne illness, people who are most at risk for listeriosis, such as pregnant women, seniors, children and those with compromised immune systems, should:
Reheat until steaming hot the following types of ready-to-eat foods: hot dogs, luncheon meats, cold cuts, fermented and dry sausage, and other deli-style meat and poultry products. Thoroughly reheating food can help kill any bacteria that might be present. If you cannot reheat these foods, do not eat them.
Wash hands with hot, soapy water after handling these types of ready-to-eat foods. (Wash for at least 20 seconds.) Also wash cutting boards, dishes, and utensils. Thorough washing helps eliminate any bacteria that might get on your hands or other surfaces from food before it is reheated.
Do not eat soft cheeses such as feta, Brie, Camembert, blue-veined or Mexican-style cheese. You can eat hard cheeses, processed cheeses, cream cheese, cottage cheese, and yogurt.
Do not drink raw, unpasteurized milk or eat foods made from it, such as unpasteurized cheese.
For Further Information, Contact:
FSIS Congressional and Public Affairs Staff
Phone: (202) 720-9113
Fax: (202) 690-0460
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