Outbreak alert: Listeria in the United Kingdom, parasites in the United States

Foodborne illness outbreaks — and the resulting food product recalls — have garnered no small amount of attention in the news in recent weeks. Here are two of the bigger ones.

Listeria in frozen vegetables

A major supermarket supplier in the United Kingdom has recalled 43 frozen vegetable products due to the risk of Listeria monocytogenes contamination, based on guidance from the Food Standards Agency (FSA).

The FSA advises anyone who has purchased the recalled products, which mostly contain sweetcorn, to return the veggies to the store they got them from.

Vegetables contaminated with Listeria usually get the bacteria from soil or the manure used as fertilizer. Contamination can also occur during processing, which is why food processors thoroughly test their facilities for the presence of the pathogen.

Infection with Listeria usually comes with symptoms that can include fever, muscle aches, diarrhea and nausea. Most cases pass after a few days without treatment. More serious cases can involve headaches, confusion and loss of balance. Only the most serious cases are fatal.

Pregnant women are 20 times more likely than other healthy adults to get listeriosis (another word for a Listeria infection). These infections can lead to premature delivery or miscarriage, or the infection of the newborn. Others who face higher risks are people with weakened immune systems, the very young, and elderly persons.

Parasite problem

Across the pond, the United States is dealing with an outbreak of a microscopic parasite in pre-packaged vegetable trays, which have now been recalled.

The parasite, Cyclospora cayetanensis, has sickened more than 200 people so far. Seven people have been hospitalized. The parasite can remain in an infected person’s system for days or weeks, with symptoms like diarrhea, loss of appetite, abdominal pain, bloating, increased gas, nausea, fatigue and vomiting.

Consumers are advised to visit a doctor if they show symptoms and suspect they’ve been infected, and to throw away any of the recalled products they may have purchased.

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