CDC tells pregnant people, seniors to stop eating deli meat, cheese amid listeria outbreak

Some people should not eat any meat or cheese from any deli counters due to an ongoing outbreak of listeria in the U.S. that has killed one person, sickened more than a dozen others and caused a lost pregnancy, federal health officials say.

“You are at higher risk for severe listeria illness if you are pregnant, aged 65 or older, or have a weakened immune system due to to certain medical conditions or treatments,” the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday in an alert posted on the agency’s website.

“If you are in any of these groups, do not eat meat or cheese from any deli counter, unless it is reheated to an internal temperature of 165°F or until steaming hot.”

The CDC said that people who are not in these groups are unlikely to get very sick from the pathogen, although they can still fall ill with mild food poisoning symptoms, such as diarrhea and fever. Most people recover without treatment, but the agency warned that the illness can cause severe illness or even death in newborns, while pregnant people can suffer pregnancy loss or premature birth.

Six states affected

The warning comes as the CDC investigates a listeria outbreak that sickened 16 people, one of whom died, in six states: California, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York. “Deli meat and cheese purchased at deli counters in multiple states are the likely sources of this outbreak,” the CDC stated. 

Among seven people stricken in New York, five bought sliced deli meat or cheese from at least one location of NetCost Market, but investigators believe contaminated food was sold at delis elsewhere. 

NetCost Market temporarily closed its deli in Brooklyn for a deep cleaning, but the outbreak strain was found there again in September. Additional tests did not find the bacteria after an additional cleaning, according to the agency. 

About 1,600 Americans get listeriosis each year and about 260 die, with young people, the elderly, and those who are pregnant or with weakened immune systems the most vulnerable to infection, according to the CDC.

An overwhelming majority of those cases come from deli meat, which account for more than 90% of listeriosis cases in the U.S., according to recently released findings from the School of Public Health at the University of Minnesota. 

The remainder stems from ready-to-eat salads, cheeses and frozen vegetables, the researchers found.

Cases of the potentially fatal foodborne illness are likely to rise as Americans eat more prepared food, they predicted in an analysis to be published in the December edition of the International Journal of Food Microbiology. 

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