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Listeria in Packaged Beef at Hospital Cafeterias

** High Priority **

Media Release

Date: February 21, 2008

Listeria in Packaged Beef at Waikato Hospital Cafeterias (Q&As to Follow)

Routine testing by Health Waikato's Food and Nutrition Service has uncovered listeria monocyotogenes in packaged, externally purchased cold beef at Waikato Hospital.

The testing was carried out at Waikato Hospital last week as part of the Waikato District Health Board's Food Safety Programme. The programme is not a compulsory one but has been in place since 2006 as a quality and risk management initiative.

The packaged cold beef had already been cleared as fit for sale by the supplier.

"Once the presence of listeria was suspected by Health Waikato's catering services, the product was withdrawn and relevant agencies, including New Zealand Food Safety Authority and Health Waikato's Population Health Service were advised," said Waikato Hospital group manager Hayley McConnell.

However, contaminated meat was sold in both Waikato Hospital cafeterias - the Upper Deck Café and Hockin Café - from February 8-13, in sandwiches and salads and served to some low-risk patients from February 11-13.

Waikato District Health Board medical officer of health Dr Anita Bell said the risk of a person developing a listeria infection after consumption of a contaminated product was "very small".

Ms McConnell said Health Waikato believed the public should be made aware of the finding and the possible risk, "however minimal."

Dr Bell said listeria was a bacterium which generally only caused illness in pregnant women, the very young, the elderly and people with a compromised immune system.

Symptoms can include a fever, headache, nausea, vomiting and aches and pains in joints and muscles and can lead to meningitis and blood poisoning.

"In pregnant women, mild flu-like illness may be experienced, however infections during pregnancy can lead to miscarriage or stillbirth," said Dr Bell.

"All pregnant women are advised not to eat chilled, pre-cooked meat."

There was only one case of listeria notified in the Waikato last year involving an elderly person.

"Should anyone who ate a beef salad or beef sandwich on the above dates from either of our cafeterias, or as a patient in a ward, become concerned about their health in the next few weeks, we suggest they contact their doctor highlighting the possibility of listeria."

Information was being sent to all Waikato GPs, she said.

NB: Information regarding the beef supplier and subsequent product withdrawal issues, should be discussed with NZFSA.


Listeria: FAQ

What is Listeria?
Listeria is a common bacterium (bug) which is widely found in dust, soil, water, plants, sewage and animal droppings. It is a notifiable disease in New Zealand

What are the symptoms of a Listeria infection?
There are two forms of infection: non-invasive and invasive.
Non-invasive: Symptoms include diarrhoea, fever, muscle pain, headache, occasional abdominal cramps and vomiting. Symptoms can appear within nine to 48 hours of eating a high enough dose of the pathogen. Most people recover fully.
Invasive: This usually strikes those with weakened immune systems. Symptoms can take anything from one to 70 days (but usually three weeks) to appear.
Invasive listeriosis causes 'flu-like' symptoms of fever, headache, diarrhoea, vomiting, meningitis, septicaemia (blood poisoning) or encephalitis (swelling of the brain). Pregnant women who get listeriosis may suffer a miscarriage or stillbirth. Nearly all cases need hospital treatment and for some, the infection is fatal.

Who is most at risk?
Anyone can get sick from listeria but pregnant women, the very young, frail elderly, or those with a low immunity or long-term chronic illness are most at risk of severe effects. For more information see the NZFSA booklets: Food Safety When You Have Low Immunity and Food Safety in Pregnancy, and an earlier publication Food Safety: Avoiding Listeria from the Ministry of Health.
The following risky foods should be avoided or handled very carefully by the vulnerable groups mentioned above.
Risky foods include:
* chilled, pre-cooked or smoked fish or seafood products
* raw fish or seafood products including sushi/sashimi, oysters or smoked salmon
* paté or meat spreads
* cold, pre-cooked chicken or takeaway chicken used in sandwiches etc
* chilled, pre-cooked meat products eg, ham or uncooked meat products eg, salami
* pre-prepared or packaged salad and coleslaws
* pre-prepared meals eg, microwave dinners
* cheese that is soft or unpackaged eg, brie, blue, feta, camembert and ricotta.
(Note: These cheeses are safe if cooked and eaten hot)
* raw (unpasteurised) milk.
Safer foods are stored and handled properly, in addition to:
* freshly cooked food
* thoroughly cooked food
* freshly washed vegetables and fruit
* tinned foods that have just been opened
* bread and baked foods (without cream or custard)
* dried food, cereals, drinks
* certain pasteurised dairy foods - if purchased in small amounts and eaten by the use-by date. These are: packaged firm cheese, cheese spread, processed cheese, cottage cheese, cream cheese, milk, yoghurt, UHT (long life) milk. (Note: For people with low immunity, these foods are safe if eaten cold or cooked within two days of opening the pack).

Safe food practice in the home:
* Keep uncooked meats separate from vegetables and cooked and ready-to-eat meals
* Uncooked meats should be well wrapped and covered
* Wash hands, knives and cutting boards thoroughly with hot water and soap after handling uncooked foods
* Cook leftover foods or ready-to-eat meal until piping hot
* Wash all fresh food carefully be eating it
* Make sure any leftover foods or ready-to-eat foods, such as hot dogs, are heated until piping hot, before consumption


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