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Listeria in Packaged, Sliced Beef in Some Cafes

Media Release
Thursday, 21 February 2008

Health Alert

Listeria in Packaged, Sliced Beef in Some Cafes in the Auckland Region

Routine testing by Health Waikato’s Food and Nutrition Service, has uncovered ‘Listeria Monocyotogenes’ in packaged, externally purchased cold sliced beef.

The testing was carried out at Waikato Hospital as part of the Waikato District Health Board’s Food Safety Programme. The programme is a quality and risk management initiative.

The packaged, cold, sliced beef was sold only to trade outlets and all product has now been withdrawn. None of the product was supplied to retail outlets such as supermarkets.

“Once the presence of listeria was suspected, the product was immediately withdrawn and relevant agencies, including New Zealand Food Safety Authority have been advised”, said Dr Greg Simmons, medical officer of health, Auckland Regional Public Health Services.

However, contaminated sliced beef was supplied to some cafeterias in the Auckland region for use in meals such as sandwiches and salads. The time period over which the product was supplied was from the beginning of February to 20 February 2008.

Dr Greg Simmons said the risk of a person developing a listeria infection after consumption of a contaminated product was “very small”.

Dr Simmons believes, however minimal, the public should be made aware of the finding and the possible risk. The length of time the sliced beef was available and, for some, the very long time it takes for infection to develop (up to 70 days) makes it important that the public be made aware of the possible health risk.

Dr Simmons said listeria was a bacterium which generally only caused illness in pregnant women, the very young, the elderly and people with lowered immunity.

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 we are concerned as infections during pregnancy can lead to miscarriage or stillbirth,” said Dr Simmons.

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

Last year, there were nine cases of listeria notified in the Auckland region; two of these cases were in pregnant women.

“If you have eaten cold, sliced beef from a café between the beginning of February and 20 February this year and develop ‘flu like symptoms’ or become concerned about your health in the next few weeks, especially if you are pregnant, we suggest you contact your doctor highlighting the possibility of listeria.”

NB: The product concerned was supplied only to the hospitality industry and trade, and none is left in the marketplace. Food regulators are working with the company to ensure it has the appropriate systems and controls in place to prevent the problem recurring.


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