London, United Kingdom
Almost ten deaths and one possible death and massive frozen products recall have been reported in countries as far and near as Austria, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Australia, South Africa and the United Arab Emirates following a worldwide outbreak of listeria monocytogenes that started in Hungary about a week ago. Chains such as Tesco and Woolworths have initiated recalls of almost 50 frozen products.
According reports frozen corn and other frozen vegetables produced in a company in Hungary are likely to be the source of the outbreak. The Hungarian Food Chain Safety Office has ordered a product recall. However, new cases may still emerge, says the updated risk assessment published by ECDC and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) recently.
According to a press release issued by European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, as of June 8, 2018, and since 2015, 47 listeriosis cases have been confirmed as part of this outbreak, nine of them resulting in death, which represents a case fatality rate of 19%. On June 29, 2018, the Hungarian Food Chain Safety Office banned the marketing of all frozen vegetables and frozen mixed vegetables produced by the company between August 2016 and June 2018, and ordered their immediate withdrawal and recall. All freezing activity at the plant was stopped in June 2018. The recall is likely to reduce the risk of human infections significantly, but new cases may still emerge as long as contaminated products are still on the market and in consumer’s freezers. Additionally, the long incubation period of listeriosis (up to 70 days), the long shelf life of frozen corn products and the consumption of frozen corn bought before the recall and eaten without being properly cooked can also originate new cases. Any contaminated vegetables from the 2017 and 2016 production seasons are a risk for consumers until their withdrawal and recall is completed.
FSANZ warning, death in Australia
Meanwhile, Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) has warned vulnerable people to check their freezers for recalled frozen vegetable products that are possibly contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes. Acting FSANZ CEO Peter May said pregnant women, people whose immune systems are compromised (e.g., cancer patients) and elderly people, are at a much greater risk from Listeria infection. “The products affected contain a particularly dangerous strain of Listeria and are being recalled as a precautionary measure to ensure consumers are protected, but particularly vulnerable populations,” May said.
In the Australian state of Victoria, The Victorian Department of Health and Human Services has identified a case of listeria from earlier in 2018 that has now been linked to the strain in Europe which has led to a recall of a range of imported frozen vegetables.
The listeria is the same serotype with similar genetics. Unfortunately, the Victorian case who was being treated for another serious illness died earlier this year. So it is not possible to confirm whether this person actually consumed any of the frozen vegetable products. In Victoria, there was a total of 21 cases of Listeriosis in 2017, 25 cases in 2016 and 22 cases in 2015.
Rice product recall in South Africa
The National Institute for Communicable Diseases has informed in a release that whole-genome sequencing (WGS) analysis has shown human cases are linked to frozen corn and several other frozen vegetable products produced at the Greenyard Factory in Hungary. The outbreak strain is L. monocytogenes sequence type 6 (ST6), but this strain is not related to the ST6 strain which caused the recent listeriosis outbreak in South Africa; NICD scientists have confirmed this with ECDC colleagues. Woolworths has announced a recall of their frozen savoury rice product as a precautionary measure; the product contains frozen corn and is reportedly sourced from Belgium. This follows on an alert issued by the Hungarian Food Safety Agency to the global food industry.