Nearly half a million pounds of meat were recalled by the Manda Packing Company in Baker, Louisiana, recently after a random test found listeria monocytogenes bacteria on a slice of cooked roast beef.
The company packages roast beef, ham, turkey breast, tasso pork, ham shanks, hog head cheese, corned beef, and pastrami; the 468,000 pounds of product were packed on February 27 and shipped to stores in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas, the USDA announced in a press release. Neither to U.S. Food Safety and Inspection Service nor the Manda Packing Company have received any reports of illness due to the recalled meats. The contaminated slice cropped up in Tennessee, but officially expanded the recall after listeria turned up on other samples in other states.
"We are committed to work with USDA in reviewing and enhancing our food safety system so we can continue to ensure that our products are safe, wholesome and worthy of our brand name," Josh Yarborough, director of quality assurance for Manda, said in a statement. The potentially contaminated products were sold under several different names, including "Manda Supreme," "Four Star," "S&W," "LA Pride," "LeBlancs," "Thompsons," "Deli Pride," "Chef Master," and "Christiana." Sell-by dates on the packages are May 13 through June 22, though certain types of turkey have sell-by dates as late as July 1.
While lunch meat in general is usually quite safe, identifying contaminated products might not be as simple as looking at the "sell by" date.
"These products may have been sliced at retail delis, and if so will not bear this packaging information," the USDA pointed out in an announcement.
Listeria can be found in soil, water, and naturally in certain animals, like cattle and pigs. It can be found in raw (unpasteurized) milk and products made with raw milk, and can live in meat processing plants, where it can contaminate a number of different products. The bacteria isn't visible to the eye, and can grow on foods that look, taste, and smell perfectly fine, and can thrive even in refrigerators if the temperature in the fridge is above 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
And cold cuts aren't the only culprits: The bacteria can also be found in canned, raw, or smoked seafood, on preserved and smoked meats (like hot dogs, sausages, and salami), on soft cheese made with unpasteurized milk (like Feta, Brie, and queso fresco), on raw sprouts, and on fruit. A listeria outbreak linked to contaminated cantaloupe melons in 2011 killed 25 people and killed 123 in Colorado, one of the worst outbreak of food-borne illness since the 1970s.
People who have consumed contaminated food might not get sick right away, making it more difficult to figure out the source of the contamination. It takes anywhere from three to 70 days for symptoms to show up, and the illness (called listeriosis) can last from a few days to a few weeks. Typical symptoms of listeria infection include fever, stiff neck, confusion, vomiting, and diarrhea, the USDA cautions, and pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems are especially at risk. (The USDA points out that "Healthy people rarely contract listeriosis.")
Consumers can minimize their risk of listeriosis by:
- washing fruit as soon as you buy it, even if you intend to peel it before eating it.
- Cooking foods at high heat, even ready-to-eat foods like cold cuts.
- Avoiding raw milk and cheese made with unpasteurized milk