Largest recorded Listeria outbreak attributed to ready-to-eat meat

After months of investigation, the likely cause of the world’s largest-ever recorded Listeria outbreak has been narrowed down: ready-to-eat processed meat.

The South African outbreak has been ongoing since early 2017, with nearly 1,000 reported cases of listeriosis — 183 resulting in the deaths of infected persons, 79 of which were just babies.

This week, South Africa’s Minister of Health announced the culprit was a ready-to-eat, bologna-based product called “polony.” The implicated products were processed by the country’s largest consumer food manufacturer. About 93% of listeriosis patients interviewed by outbreak investigators said they had recently consumed the ready-to-eat meat.

What’s next? Consumers have been advised to avoid all ready-to-eat meat products. Recalls have also been issued for polony, as well as a variety of other meat products, like sausages and deli meats, due to the possibility of cross-contamination.

“While we know that polony is definitely implicated, there is a risk of cross-contamination of other ready-to-eat processed meat products, either at production, distribution or retail. This is because Listeria on the exterior casing of polony can be transferred to other products it comes into contact with,” said the country’s National Consumer Commission.

The outbreak is currently still ongoing, but experts hope that illnesses and deaths will drop off now that a cause has been identified.

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