Listeria: On the environmental trail of food pathogens

Tracking one of the deadliest food contamination organisms through produce farms and natural environments alike, Cornell microbiologists are showing how to use big datasets to predict where the next outbreak could start.

listeria4Specifically, the lethal listeria bacterium, Listeria monocytogenes, might be lurking in moist soil, close to open water and near livestock pastures, according to a Journal of Food Protection article, “Geographical and Meteorological Factors Associated with Isolation of Listeria Species in New York State Produce Production and Natural Environments.”

“Due to the complexity of landscapes, it’s basically impossible to know which environments favor the presence of listeria species or other disease-causing bacteria that may contaminate foods,” said Martin Wiedmann, professor of food science and one of five researchers behind the article in the Journal of Food Protection. “We thus took a ‘big data’ approach that combined data from hundreds of bacterial samples from farms and forests across upstate New York with mapping data to identify locations that may favor the presence of specific bacteria.”

The researchers were not surprised to find L. monocytogenes – the deadliest of some 15 listeria species and the cause of listeriosis, which sickened 147 people (and killed 33) with contaminated cantaloupes in 2011 – in farm fields and forests near pastures. Thriving in fecal matter and soil, the rod-shaped bacterium can travel through surface water and other mechanisms to places where human and animal food is grown.

The point of their research was to prove that so-called index organisms (such as other species of listeria collected in samples) can stand in for one bad actor (such as L. monocytogenes) and facilitate detection of microbes of interest. They investigated this by testing whether the same spatial factors that predict the presence of the index organisms also predict the presence of the bad actor.

About 33 percent of samples from New York’s natural environments had some kind of listeria (not necessarily L. monocytogenes), as did 34 percent of samples from produce farms. Samples were taken by scooping sub-surface soil, dragging sterile swabs across land surfaces, and collecting feces and jars of water. Only three of 14 possible geographical factors – soil moisture, proximity to pastures and proximity to water – were highly associated with the isolation of pathogenic (L. monocytogenes) and nonpathogenic (L. innocua, L. seeligeri and L. welshimeri) listeria in produce production environments, Wiedmann and his colleagues reported.

Importantly this study, along with other recent work by this group, provides a blueprint that enables scientists to combine large public datasets that are freely available (like digitized maps and weather data) with lab and testing data to improve food safety and quality.

Other authors of the report are Travis K. Chapin, M.S. ’13; Kendra K. Nightingale, Ph.D. ’05, an associate professor at Texas Tech; Randy W. Worobo, professor of food science in Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences; and Laura K. Strawn, Ph.D. ’14, a postdoctoral research associate when the work was conducted and now an assistant professor at Virginia Tech, where she continues to use big data approaches to improve food safety.

The study was funded, in part by National Institute of Food and Agriculture, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the USDA’s National Integrated Food Safety Initiative.

Listeria outbreak from caramel apples has killed four; 23 sick

Four people have died from a Listeria outbreak linked to prepackaged caramel apples, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

0b1d2d18d5851e7b175ba98f98488433At least 28 people in 10 states have become sick due to the bacterial infection. Twenty-six have been hospitalized. Five of the patients have died, although one death was not linked to Listeria.

Nine of the illnesses were linked to pregnancy, affecting either a pregnant woman or a newborn. The outbreak also has been linked to three cases of invasive meningitis — a dangerous inflammation of the lining of the brain or spinal cord — in healthy children ages 5 to 15.

More than 80% of patients said they ate commercially produced, prepackaged caramel apples before becoming sick, according to the CDC. There is no link to home-made caramel apples or fresh produce. Health officials are working to try to identify a specific brand or type of caramel apple.

For now, however, the CDC advises people to avoid all prepackaged caramel apples.

CDC is collaborating with public health officials in several states and with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to investigate an outbreak of Listeria monocytogenes infections (listeriosis) linked to commercially produced, prepackaged caramel apples. Listeria can cause a serious, life-threatening illness.

The information CDC has at this time indicates that commercially produced, prepackaged caramel apples may be contaminated with Listeria and may be causing this outbreak.

Out of an abundance of caution, CDC recommends that U.S. consumers do not eat any commercially produced, prepackaged caramel apples, including plain caramel apples as well as those containing nuts, sprinkles, chocolate, or other toppings, until more specific guidance can be provided.

Although caramel apples are often a fall seasonal product, contaminated commercially produced, prepackaged caramel apples may still be for sale at grocery stores and other retailers nationwide or may be in consumers’ homes.

This investigation is rapidly evolving. New information will be provided as it becomes available.

As of December 18, 2014, a total of 28 people infected with the outbreak strains of Listeria monocytogenes have been reported from 10 states.

26 ill people have been hospitalized. Among the 26 people hospitalized, five deaths have been reported. Listeriosis contributed to at least four of these deaths.

Nine illnesses were pregnancy-related (occurred in a pregnant woman or her newborn infant).

Three invasive illnesses (meningitis) were among otherwise healthy children aged 5–15 years.

To date, 15 (83%) of the 18 ill people interviewed reported eating commercially produced, prepackaged caramel apples before becoming ill.

At this time, no illnesses related to this outbreak have been linked to apples that are not caramel-coated and not prepackaged or to caramel candy.

Investigators are working quickly to determine specific brands or types of commercially produced, prepackaged caramel apples that may be linked to illnesses and to identify the source of contamination.

This investigation is rapidly evolving, and new information will be provided as it becomes available.

1 dead, 4 sick: Oasis Brands, Inc. cheese recalls and investigation of human listeriosis cases

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control reports that several recalls of cheese and dairy products produced by Oasis Brands, Inc. due to possible Listeria monocytogenes contamination have been announced by the Food and Drug Administration.

oasis.listeria.oct_.14On August 4, 2014, Oasis Brands, Inc. voluntarily recalled quesito casero (fresh curd) due to possible Listeria monocytogenes contamination after the pathogen was isolated from quesito casero produced by this firm.

On October 6, 2014, Oasis Brands, Inc. recalled cuajada en hoja (fresh curd) after FDA isolated Listeria monocytogenes from environmental samples collected from the production facility.

On October 16, 2014, Oasis Brands, Inc. recalled various Lacteos Santa Martha and one HonduCrema brand cheese and dairy products.

At this time, Oasis Brands, Inc. has ceased manufacturing of all products, including the recalled products.

Whole-genome sequences of the Listeria monocytogenes strains isolated from recalled quesito casero cheese produced by Oasis Brands, Inc. were found to be highly related to sequences of Listeria strains isolated from one person who became ill in September 2013 and four persons who became ill during June through October 2014.

These five ill persons were reported from four states: Georgia (1), New York (1), Tennessee (2), and Texas (1).

listeria4Four of the five ill persons were hospitalized. One death was reported in Tennessee. Three illnesses were related to a pregnancy – one of these was diagnosed in a newborn.

All ill persons were reported to be of Hispanic ethnicity and reported consuming Hispanic-style soft cheese. Two persons who were able to answer questions about specific varieties of Hispanic-style soft cheeses reported consuming quesito casero, though neither could remember the brand.

CDC recommends that consumers do not eat any of the recalled cheese and dairy products. Restaurants and retailers should not sell or serve them.

Although limited information is available about the specific cheese products consumed by ill persons, the whole genome sequencing findings, together with the cheese consumption history of the patients suggests that these illnesses could have been related to products from Oasis Brands, Inc.

Global Garlic recalls Fresh Curd over Listeria risk

That’s right; the garlic I used to make pasta with clams ,and salmon last night could have been contaminated with Listeria (but I didn’t use curd).

FDARecall-121014Global Garlic Inc. is recalling De Mi Pais products – Cuajada Fresca (Fresh Curd) and Cuajada Olanchana (Fresh Curd) – due to possible contamination with the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes.

The recall was implemented after product sampling at the manufacturing company revealed the presence of bacteria in the finished products.

Listeria monocytogenes is an organism that can cause food-borne illness in a person who consumes food item contaminated with it. Symptoms of infection may include fever, muscle aches, gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea or diarrhea. The illness primarily impacts pregnant women and adults with weakened immune systems.

The recalled products were distributed in Florida, Louisiana, Tennessee, and North Carolina from April 1st through October 14, 2014 to distributors and retail stores. The labels of both the affected products sport the same UPC code of 896211002380 and have the Best by dates of 07/01/14 through 12/31/14.

Consumers who have purchased the products in question are requested to return it to the place of purchase for a full refund. 

Slowing bacteria’s ‘happy dance’ improves food safety

New nanotechnology developed by University of Guelph researchers that stops pathogenic bacteria from doing their happy dance might help improve food safety.

ListeriaIn an article published this week in the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Lab on a Chip Journal, the team describes nanotechnology used to study how food preservatives such as vinegar can control individual cells of Listeria monocytogenes.

In 2008, this bug killed 23 people after contaminating meat-processing equipment at Canadian-based Maple Leaf Foods.

Besides lead author Evan Wright, third-year biological engineering, the team consisted of Guelph engineering professor Suresh Neethirajan; Prof. Keith Warriner, Department of Food Science; and Scott Retterer and Bernadetta Srijanto, Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee.

In Neethirajan’s bio-nano lab, the researchers developed a nano-porous microfluidic device to see how individual Listeria cells respond to acetic acid (vinegar).

This technology is much more precise than traditional methods of measuring how preservatives affect microbes.

Adding more vinegar slowed the bacteria and made them move more randomly and with less end-over-end tumbling – what Neethirajan calls “dancing.” Those changes indicate stress, meaning that the bacteria are less able to make biofilms and become less infective.

“We know exactly at what moment the bacterial change in motility occurs in relationship to the change in concentration,” said Neethirajan.

Listeria can grow over a wide range of temperatures and withstand many stresses.

“This is a powerful technology with strong potential,” said Warriner, a microbiologist who has studied bacterial food outbreaks. “It’s a method of testing the mode of action of preservatives in food systems.”

He said this study can also help in looking at how antibiotic resistance develops in pathogens such as Salmonella, and how Listeria and other pathogens invade tissue to cause illness. He said food companies might use their work to improve food packaging and storage to inhibit bacterial growth.

Along with Maple Leaf Foods, the Guelph researchers are using the technology to study resistance to cleaners for food preparation surfaces.

Adam Vogt, a master’s student with Neethirajan, uses the model to study Helicobacter pylori, which is associated with stomach ulcers and spicy food. 

FDA to Virginia sprout producer: your place is still a dump

Coral Beach of The Packer writes that criminal charges may be the next step in Virginia’s efforts to protect the public from Henry’s Farm, a fresh sprout grower that has been on officials’ food safety radar because of listeria since April 2012.

kevin.allen.sproutThe 32-month case is the longest running investigation that Pam Miles, supervisor for the state agriculture department’s food safety and security program, can recall. Miles and Matt Ettinger, coordinator of the program’s food safety rapid response team, have been working with staff from the Food and Drug Administration on the problems at Henry’s Farm.

Ettinger said Henry’s owner, Soo Park, has made some improvements, but problems remain unresolved even though the business burned down in December 2012 and was rebuilt. Ettinger said Listeria has been found in product and on surfaces at the previous facility and the new growing facility.

A man who answered the phone at Henry’s Farm hung up when asked about the situation.

“We are currently considering what action we can take against them,” Miles said Dec. 3. “Compliance is voluntary. We don’t have administrative fines so we have to go through the criminal courts if a problem isn’t resolved and the public safety is at risk.”

Park voluntarily shut down operations at his Woodford, Va., facility in November after Virginia officials confiscated and destroyed all finished product, seeds and growing sprouts. The grower issued a recall Nov. 24. Because of the facility’s history of Listeria problems, Virginia food safety staff has been inspecting and testing at Henry’s every four months, Miles said.


I have to recall? I sue you

On Dec. 12, 2012, Ocean Beauty Seafoods LLC voluntarily recalled 371 cases of ready-to-eat cold smoked salmon products because of possible contamination by Listeria monocytogenes.

goodfellasNow, they’re suing their supplier.

Ocean Beauty Seafoods is suing salmon farming giant Marine Harvest for damages the U.S. supplier states it sustained as a result of recalls of Listeria monocytogenes tainted smoked salmon at the end of 2012 and the start of 2013.

Seattle, Washington-based Ocean Beauty suffered nearly $2 million in damages due to the contaminated products and, despite multiple demands from Ocean Beauty, Marine Harvest has refused to compensate Ocean Beauty for its losses, according to the claim in the case, filed on July 11, 2014.

Starr Indemnity & Liability Company, an insurer for Ocean Beauty, has issued payment to Ocean Beauty for damage caused by the defendants, and joins the action to enforce its rights of subrogation against the defendants.

Aldi hotdogs contaminated with Listeria in Australia

I didn’t know they had hot dogs in Australia. There’s sausages, snags and snots, but not a lot of hot dogs.

Apparently I need to go to ALDI’s: or maybe not.

ALDI Berg Hot DogsCanberrans are urged to check any hotdogs bought from Aldi that might be contaminated with Listeria.

ACT Health Protection Service director John Woollard said shoppers needed to check their freezers for any Strassburg and Skinless hotdogs. 

Tibaldi Australasia Pty Ltd in association with Aldi supermarkets is recalling Aldi Berg Strassburg and Aldi Berg Skinless Hotdogs from stores in the ACT, as well as Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria after the products were found to be contaminated with the bacteria Listeria monocytogenes.

Mr Woollard said the items should not be eaten. 

And how was this Listeria contamination detected?

3,000 Copenhagen kids get listeria-infested food

As many as 3,000 school children in 40 schools throughout Copenhagen were served listeria-infected food, city officials have warned.

tzatzikiIn a letter to parents, the City of Copenhagen said that listeria was found in tzatziki served to school kids as part of a public-run lunch program. 

 “We are writing to you because your child has eaten EAT [the name of the school food programme, ed.] on Tuesday, November 11th and it has now been found that there was listeria in the tzatziki,” the letter reads, according to broadcaster DR. 

 The EAT programme delivers lunch to 40 different schools and the infected tzatziki was one of two lunch options offered on November 11th. According to a city official, around 3,000 of the up to 5,000 children who get their meals from the programme are through to have chosen the infected dish. 

 “We are clearly taking this very seriously, and are currently following all of the recommendations from Fødevarestyrelsen [the Danish Food and Veterinary Administration, ed.] in order to ensure it doesn’t happen again,” Lina Maria Johnsson, the head of the city’s health department, told DR. 

 It is uncertain if the listeria stems from the cucumber, garlic or yoghurt used in the tzatziki, or from unhygienic conditions at EAT’s kitchens.

Denmark has seen numerous listeria outbreaks this year. The most serious of which, an outbreak that was traced to the deli meat rullepølse, has killed 17. In another incident, listeria in a soup served at two public hospitals killed three

Beef balls recalled for Listeria

Nha Trang Deli Inc. is recalling Beef Balls from the marketplace due to possible Listeria monocytogenes contamination.

beef.balls.listeriaThis recall was triggered by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) test results. The CFIA is conducting a food safety investigation, which may lead to the recall of other products. If other high-risk products are recalled, the CFIA will notify the public through updated Food Recall Warnings.

The CFIA is verifying that industry is removing recalled product from the marketplace.

There have been no reported illnesses associated with the consumption of this product.