Listeria monocytogenes returned to hospitals and media headlines as another outbreak killed a Californian and sickened seven others.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately one in six people are sickened each year from ingesting contaminated food. Outside of poisoning by poorly prepared food, listeria is relatively rare. The current outbreak was traced to Roos Food, a Delaware cheese facility since closed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
In February, the FDA investigated reports of illness that occurred during the last quarter of 2013. Using genetic sequencing, the FDA determined a relationship between the bacteria that sickened its victims in Maryland and California. Traced to cheese produced by Roos Food, an FDA inspection of the facility found the following:
- Floors, walls and equipment in the facility are in poor repair. Storage vats displayed rust holes, while rough concrete floors were disintegrating.
- Piping and milk storage tanks were not capped or covered to keep out contaminants.
- Metal roof, ceiling and other supports showed rust deterioration and flaking.
- Given the deteriorated condition of the roof, cheese processing and storage tanks were open to rain. Standing water was evident throughout the cheese processing and storage areas.
- Processing equipment retained food residue and particulate even after cleaning.
Like salmonella, listeria is a household word in the United States. This disturbing familiarity is due to continued issues with food safety throughout the country.