NJ health issues Listeria warning on the heels of pregnant woman’s infection
Nearly two weeks after a 38-week pregnant woman was diagnosed with a Listeria monocytogenes infection, the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services (NJDHSS) issued a warning Thursday advising the public not to eat any cheese products produced by El Ranchero del Sur of South River, NJ.
The woman was diagnosed with the potentially fatal infection on Mar 2 at a New Brunswick hospital.
The Middlesex County Health Department performed an investigation on her infection and samples of cheese products were analyzed by the NJDHSS Public Health Environmental and Agricultural labs, who confirmed the presence of Listeria monocytogenes in a sample of Los Corrales Queso Fresco Fresh Cheese and Banana Leaf code dated 03/16/12.
El Ranchero del Sur agreed to a voluntary recall its products and to close its production plant while the investigation is in progress.
According to the NJDHSS health alert, El Ranchero del Sur cheese products can be found primarily in Mexican and Latin American grocery stores, restaurants, and other hispanic food establishments under the name brands El Ranchero, Los Corrales, and Carnes Don Beto with the plant number 34-0013669 marked on the label. All products are 14 ounces in weight except for the Queso Hebra Oaxaca String Cheese ball in 10 pound packages.
Listeria monocytogenes is bacteria that is normally found in the environment and has been found in animals, birds and vegetation. It can be found in raw foods and processed foods that get contaminated after processing. Some of the most common foods that are associated with listeriosis are raw milk, soft cheeses, vegetables, and many ready to eat meats like hot dogs, deli meats and pâtés.
Those at greatest risk of serious listeria infection include pregnant women, newborns, the elderly, and adults with weakened immune systems (AIDS patients have a significantly high chance, up to 300 times, of contracting the disease).
Most healthy persons show no symptoms of this disease. Initial symptoms of food borne listeriosis include fever, muscle aches, fatigue and sometimes gastrointestinal symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea. Primarily in high risk groups but occasionally in healthy adults, the infection can spread to the blood and central nervous system where it can cause sepsis and meningitis.
Due to a naturally depressed immune system, pregnant women are about 20 times more likely than other healthy adults to contract this disease. Though many women may only experience mild flu-like symptoms, infections during pregnancy can have devastating consequences to the fetus which include stillbirth or miscarriage, premature delivery and serious infections in the newborn.
What things can you do to prevent this infection? The CDC offers recommendations to the general public and high risk groups:
• Thoroughly cook raw food from animal sources, such as beef, pork, or poultry.
• Wash raw vegetables thoroughly before eating.
• Keep uncooked meats separate from vegetables and from cooked foods and ready-to-eat foods.
• Avoid unpasteurized (raw) milk or foods made from unpasteurized milk.
• Wash hands, knives, and cutting boards after handling uncooked foods.
• Consume perishable and ready-to-eat foods as soon as possible
Recommendations for persons at high risk, such as pregnant women and persons with weakened immune systems, in addition to the recommendations listed above:
• Do not eat hot dogs, luncheon meats, or deli meats, unless they are reheated until steaming hot.
• Avoid getting fluid from hot dog packages on other foods, utensils, and food preparation surfaces, and wash hands after handling hot dogs, luncheon meats, and deli meats.
• Do not eat soft cheeses such as feta, Brie, and Camembert, blue-veined cheeses, or Mexican-style cheeses such as queso blanco, queso fresco, and Panela, unless they have labels that clearly state they are made from pastuerized milk.
• Do not eat refrigerated pâtés or meat spreads. Canned or shelf-stable pâtés and meat spreads may be eaten.
• Do not eat refrigerated smoked seafood, unless it is contained in a cooked dish, such as a casserole. Refrigerated smoked seafood, such as salmon, trout, whitefish, cod, tuna or mackerel, is most often labeled as “nova-style,” “lox,” “kippered,” “smoked,” or “jerky.” The fish is found in the refrigerator section or sold at deli counters of grocery stores and delicatessens. Canned or shelf-stable smoked seafood may be eaten.
This food borne illness affects about 2500 Americans each year. Only salmonella rivals listeria as far as food borne fatalities in this country.
This is a very hardy bacterium that can survive and even grow at refrigeration temperature. Because of this factor, Listeria presents challenges for us all.
For more info: USDA Information for Pregnant Hispanic Women