Listeria and Food Recalls

Jul 24, 2013 | Naomi Nkinsi | Outbreak News

On July 16, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced a recall of hummus products produced by Hagee Foods Inc. (Penny's Salsa Inc.) because they had the potential of being contaminated with the bacteria Listeria monocytogenes, a pathogen that leads to listeriosis infection. According to the FDA, the hummus products came in 8 oz. and 12oz. clear plastic packages and were distributed to retail stores in Oregon and Washington State. The contaminated products were printed with Penny's Salsa, Tacoma Boys and Harbor Greens labels. So far, no illnesses have been reported in connection with the recalled products, but the FDA urges that those who have purchased any size of Penny’s Salsa Hummus return them for a full refund. More information on specific products being recalled can be found on the FDA website.

Listeria was first identified as a food-borne pathogen in the 1980s. Listeriosis is a serious infection caused by eating food contaminated with the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes. This bacterium is normally found in soil and water. The disease primarily affects the elderly, pregnant women, and those with otherwise sensitive immune systems, while those with strong immune systems may be infected without showing any symptoms. Although the symptoms of listeria vary from person to person, they can include high fever, body aches, confusion, convulsions, and diarrhea. According to the CDC, infections can be especially severe for pregnant women as the effects threaten the health of the newborn.

For an idea of how listeria affects us in the United States, check out the report, “Listeria Ilnesses, Deaths, and Outbreaks – United States, 2009 – 2011” in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (June 7 2013). According to the report, 1,651 cases of listeriosis were reported during the 2009-2011 window, with a case-fatality rate (the percentage of those diagnosed with a disease who die from that disease within a given time period) of 21 percent. Twelve outbreaks were reported. The range in outbreak size was two cases to 147 cases. Most of these outbreaks were linked to food consumed in private homes. Cheese was often the source (listeria can be killed by the pasteurization process).

Most listeria infections can be treated with antibiotics. The CDC urges those who experience symptoms within two months of eating contaminated food to contact their health provider. Listeria infections can be easily prevented with proper food handling practices such as properly washing produce and thoroughly cooking meats and poultry. Full CDC food handling recommendations and prevention methods can be found on its website.

This is the third time during July 2013 that the FDA has issued a food recall due to listeria. Earlier this month, the FDA recalled cheese under brand names “Cave Brothers,” “Les Freres”, and “Petit Frere” from Whole Foods Market and Farmstead Cheese Company. 



Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Listeria (Listeriosis). Atlanta: , 2013. Web. <>.

Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Hagee Foods Inc. dba Penn'ys Salsa Inc. Recalls Hummus Products Because of Possible Health Risk. 2013. Web. <>.

Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Whole Foods Market Recalls Cheese Because of Possible Health Risk. 2013. Web.

Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Cave Brothers Farmstead Cheese Recalls Les Freres Cheese Products. 2013. Web.

Schlech, WF et al. Epidemic Listeriosis – Evidence for Transmission by Food. New England Journal of Medicine.  January 1983. Web

Silk, B et al. Vital Signs: Listeria Illnesses, Deaths, and Outbreaks – United States, 2009 – 2011. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. June 2013. Web.

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