Listeria Outbreak Prevention and Control – What Can We Learn from the Blue Bell Contamination?
The U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Civil Division has opened a criminal investigation regarding Blue Bell Creamery’s response to last spring’s Listeria outbreak that ultimately caused three deaths and at least 10 illnesses. The DOJ is investigating the Blue Bell Ice Cream Company for its role in the distribution of its contaminated products into the food market which resulted in an outbreak in April 2015. The Civil Division within the DOJ is primarily looking into the extent at which the Texas Based company knew about its involvement in this matter.
In recent years Listeria outbreaks have diversified in the foods which serve as vehicles for Listeria. This is a dangerous situation as Listeria monocytogenes has a 16% fatality rate as compared to 0.5% for the more commonly encountered pathogen, Salmonella. Apart from foods such as soft cheese and deli meats that have traditionally been linked to Listeria, recently outbreaks linked to fruit, vegetables and ice cream have been also reported. As a result, over 40 product recalls have taken place across the industry, for testing positive to this pathogen in the year 2015 alone.
The extent of the endemic contamination of Listeria is yet to be ascertained with numbers for the year 2016 still coming in due to advances in diagnostics. Therefore, it would be highly prudent to review the current policy related to Listeria and whether more can be done to prevent and control this dangerous pathogen.
According to reports, the DOJ’s Civil Division will be looking into whether or not anyone at Blue Bell was aware that the company was distributing contaminated product to the mass market. Investigators reportedly want to know if executives knew about the presence of Listeria in the affected production plants, and if so, how they responded upon learning of it.
We may justify a large number of product recalls in preventing outbreaks, however, it is not a sustainable solution. Food waste and eventual rise in prices are bound to be passed on to the consumer. I think it is time we review the current policy related to Listeria and understand what can be done for its prevention and control.
To this end, this session “Advances in Listeria monocytogenes Outbreaks, control and detection” with expert speaker Keith Warriner, a Professor within the Department of Food Science at University of Guelph, Canada, will provide an overview of L. monocytogenes that includes the characteristics of the pathogen and the mode in which it causes illness. A review of outbreaks and recalls will be provided with focus on recent incidents implicating apples, frozen vegetables and ice cream. New developments in Listeria control and detection will be also highlighted.