STATEMENT: CDC issues scary warning about deli counters connected to listeria outbreak

Media Contacts

WASHINGTON — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Wednesday warned of a new Listeria outbreak involving deli meat and cheese that has caused at least 16 illnesses, 13 hospitalizations, a miscarriage and a death in six states spread across the United States. The CDC said the actual number of illnesses is likely higher because many people don’t seek medical care and aren’t tested for Listeria

Although the CDC is just now announcing this threat, the agency said the outbreak started in early 2021, with the first illness reported in April 2021. The most recent illness was reported last month. 

The CDC hasn’t yet identified a specific product as the origin, but stressed that all meats and cheese in all deli cases could contain Listeria “because Listeria spreads easily between food and the deli environment and can persist for a long time in deli display cases and on equipment.”

The public health experts added that Listeria also can spread easily on countertops, slicers, surfaces and hands. “Listeria is a hardy germ that can be difficult to fully remove once it is in the deli. It can survive and grow at cold temperatures in the refrigerator,” the CDC said.

Because of this, the CDC is advising people who are pregnant, age 65 or older or who have a weakened immune system to avoid eating any meat or cheese from any deli counter, unless it’s been reheated to 165 degrees or steaming hot. Listeria can make people in these high-risk groups seriously ill. The CDC says people infected with Listeria generally suffer from headaches, stiff necks, confusion, loss of balance and convulsions, in addition to fever and muscle aches after eating contaminated food. 

The cases span the country, from California to New York, Illinois, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Maryland. Such geographic distribution is unusual in contaminated food outbreaks.

In response, Teresa Murray, Consumer Watchdog at U.S. PIRG Education Fund, said:

“It’s stunning that we’re seeing another Listeria outbreak that took more than a year to identify. Past outbreaks involving foodborne illnesses have sometimes taken months or years before all of the cases could be linked. We need to have a better way to trace our food and track illnesses so more people aren’t put at risk.

“Last year, 19% of food recalls reported by the Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture involved Listeria, according to our analysis. This is not a small problem. We need to do more to prevent it and educate people about illnesses from contaminated food.

“The CDC estimates that every year, 48 million people get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die from foodborne diseases in this country. This is sad and avoidable — and we need to stop this outbreak before it adds any more people to those numbers.”