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Blue Bell Product Recall and the Importance of Food Tracking

July 21, 2022 by FreshByte Software

If you are a Texan, then you know that Blue Bell ice cream is high on the Lone Star State’s pantheon of beloved brands, sandwiched somewhere between Buc-ee’s and Whataburger.

You might also recall that Blue Bell was at the center of a high profile multi state listeriosis outbreak, a serious infection caused by eating food contaminated with one of the 20+ species of the listeria bacteria.

That 2015 outbreak highlighted how listeriosis can lead to hospitalization and death -- especially for pregnant women and their newborns, adults aged 65 or older, and people with weakened immune systems – with a total of 10 people with listeriosis reported across four states, with all the ill people hospitalized and three deaths reported.

CDC Estimates 1,600 Sick, 260 Dead Each Year from Listeria

The good news is that listeriosis is rare in other groups than those above, but for those vulnerable groups it can prove deadly with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimating 1,600 people sick each year, and 260 dying, from the listeria bacteria.

“Most people with invasive listeriosis require hospital care, and about one in five people with the infection die,” says the CDC. “When listeriosis occurs during pregnancy, it can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, or newborn death. Listeriosis during pregnancy results in fetal loss in about 20 percent and newborn death in about 3 percent of cases.”

The CDC estimates that each year 48 million people in the U.S. get sick from a foodborne illness, also called food poisoning.

Listeriosis accounts for a small but serious slice of the 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths each year from those foodborne diseases.

Food Tracking: Recalls Essential to Protect Public from Listeria

In 2015, Blue Bell Creameries voluntarily recalled all products that were then on the market made at all of its facilities, including ice cream, frozen yogurt, sherbet, and frozen snacks.

Such a recall highlights the importance of food tracking when it comes to keeping the public safe during a foodborne outbreak.

“In the case of a foodborne illness outbreak or contamination event, efficient product tracing helps government agencies and those who produce and sell food to rapidly find the source of the product and where contamination may have occurred,” said the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. “This enables faster removal of the affected product from the marketplace, reducing incidences of foodborne illnesses.”

July 2022: Another Listeria Outbreak Linked to Ice Cream

The Blue Bell case, unfortunately, was not an isolated scenario as listeria outbreaks continue to happen with some regularly including a July 2022 outbreak linked to Big Olaf Creamery ice cream.

The CDC says that all flavors, lots, and expiration dates through 6/30/2022 of Big Olaf brand ice cream products have been recalled. The recalled ice cream was sold or served at Big Olaf retailers, restaurants, and senior homes in Florida, and in one location in Fredericksburg, Ohio.

So far, this listeriosis outbreak has sickened 23 people across 10 states with 22 of them hospitalized and one death reported.

Ice cream is not the only food that can become contaminated with listeria with other outbreaks since 2020 resulting in recalls including:

  • April 4, 2022: Listeria Outbreak Linked to Packaged Salads Produced by Dole: Illnesses 18, hospitalizations 16, deaths 3, states 13

  • March 8, 2022: Listeria Outbreak Linked to Packaged Salads Produced by Fresh Express: illnesses 10, hospitalizations 10, deaths 1, states 8

  • September 10, 2021: Listeria Outbreak Linked to Fully Cooked Chicken: illnesses 3, hospitalizations 3, deaths 1, states 2

  • May 14, 2021: Listeria Outbreak Linked to Queso Fresco Made by El Abuelito Cheese Inc.: Illnesses 13, hospitalizations 12, deaths 1, states 4

  • Jan. 28, 2021: Outbreak of Listeria Infections Linked to Deli Meats: Cases 12, hospitalizations 12, deaths 1,
    states 4

  • June 20, 2020: Outbreak of Listeria Infections Linked to Enoki Mushrooms: Cases 36, hospitalizations 31, deaths 4, states 17

  • March 4, 2020: Outbreak of Listeria Infections Linked to Hard-boiled Eggs: Cases 8, hospitalizations 5, deaths 1, states 5

Severe Illness from Listeria Usually Starts Within 2 Weeks

Symptoms of severe illness usually start within 2 weeks after eating food contaminated with Listeria but may start as early as the same day or as late as 70 days after.

Listeria can also cause common food poisoning symptoms, like diarrhea and fever. People who experience these symptoms usually recover without treatment.

Other things to keep in mind:

  • Listeriosis is usually a mild illness for pregnant women, but it causes severe disease in the fetus or newborn baby.

  • Some people with Listeria infections, most commonly adults 65 years and older and people with weakened immune systems, develop severe infections of the bloodstream (causing sepsis) or brain (causing meningitis or encephalitis).

  • Listeria infections can sometimes affect other parts of the body, including bones, joints, and sites in the chest and abdomen.

Typical Symptoms of Listeria Infection

“Listeriosis can cause a variety of symptoms, depending on the person and the part of the body affected,” says the CDC. “Listeria can cause fever and diarrhea similar to other foodborne germs, but this type of Listeria infection is rarely diagnosed. Symptoms in people with invasive listeriosis, meaning the bacteria has spread beyond the gut, depend on whether the person is pregnant.”

Here are typical symptoms:

Pregnant women: Pregnant women typically experience only fever and other flu-like symptoms, such as fatigue and muscle aches. However, infections during pregnancy can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, premature delivery, or life-threatening infection of the newborn.

People other than pregnant women: Symptoms can include headache, stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance, and convulsions in addition to fever and muscle aches.

People with invasive listeriosis, according to the CDC, usually report symptoms starting 1 to 4 weeks after eating food contaminated with Listeria.

How Listeria is Diagnosed and Treated

Listeriosis is usually diagnosed when a bacterial culture (a type of laboratory test) grows Listeria monocytogenes from a body tissue or fluid, such as blood, spinal fluid, or the placenta.

Your medical team will treat listeriosis with antibiotics.

The CDC says to “seek medical care and tell the doctor about eating possibly contaminated food if you have a fever and other symptoms of possible listeriosis, such as fatigue and muscle aches, within two months after eating possibly contaminated food. This is especially important if you are pregnant, age 65 or older, or have a weakened immune system.”

Tags: Traceability, Safety, Food Recalls

FreshByte Software

Written by FreshByte Software

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