CDC links listeria outbreak to Gainesville egg boiler

Boiled eggs linked to a listeria outbreak by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were shipped in containers like this one by Almark Foods. CONTRIBUTED BY COMPANY
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Boiled eggs linked to a listeria outbreak by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were shipped in containers like this one by Almark Foods. CONTRIBUTED BY COMPANY

Anyone planning to bring deviled eggs or egg salad to the office potluck is advised to make the dish at home, after a listeria outbreak linked to a Georgia boiled egg producer killed one person and sickened several others around the country.

"Interviews with ill people and laboratory evidence indicate that bulk, fresh hard-boiled eggs produced by Almark Foods of Gainesville, Ga., are a likely source of this outbreak," the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday. The eggs were packaged in plastic pails and sold under various brand names nationwide to grocery stores, restaurants and other food service operations.

The CDC warning does not include the company’s packaged boiled eggs sold directly to consumers, such as the bags of boiled eggs available on grocery store shelves.

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Symptoms typically occur within one to four weeks of eating a contaminated product, though sometimes they come on the day of exposure or as late as 70 days afterward. The young and those 65 and older are more at risk of infection. High-risk groups include people on dialysis and those with cancer. Symptoms include fever, headache, stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance, convulsions and muscle aches.

Pregnant women are also particularly vulnerable. They typically experience fever and other flu-like symptoms, such as fatigue and muscle aches.

Infection during pregnancy can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, premature delivery or life-threatening infection of the newborn. The CDC said one newborn child was reportedly infected during pregnancy, but survived.

Seven illnesses were reported in five states — two each in South Carolina and in Texas and one in Florida, Maine and Pennsylvania. The one death was reported in Texas.

Almark was identified because the genetic strain of the Listeria monocytogenes infections traced back to it. The CDC is not a regulatory agency, so it cannot issue a recall. The agency said it was still working to determine the source of contamination and whether other products were affected.

A spokesman for Almark said U.S. Food and Drug Administration inspectors found the strain during a routine inspection in March. The information was entered into a national database, and matched the strain behind the outbreak.

The Almark spokesman, Gene Grabowski, said the company was planning to meet with the FDA this week to discuss whether a recall is warranted.

“There is no hard evidence the food itself was contaminated,” Grabowski said. He said the genetic strain turned up on swabs of a vent away from the food production area and on the outside of the plastic pails used to ship the boiled eggs.

The plant was disinfected after the FDA inspection, he said, adding that it was possible some pails escaped decontamination or that pails that were shipped before the FDA visit contaminated retail outlets where the eggs were used to make salads, sandwiches and other ready-made food.

“It doesn’t mean it’s coming from the plant now,” Grabowski said.

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Listeria – What You Need to Know Right Now

The Georgia Department of Agriculture is helping the FDA with its investigation. The state has been sampling products at retail outlets to check for listeria, spokeswoman Julie McPeake said.

The CDC is advising both retailers and consumers to sanitize any surfaces that may have come in contact with Almark’s hard-boiled eggs or packaging. The agency also recommends that consumers ask restaurants and stores about the source of boiled eggs in any dish; eggs boiled on-site are fine.

“Ultimately, consumers who purchased these products have no way of knowing if they contained eggs from Almark Foods,” said a written response to questions posed by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution to Laura Whitlock, a CDC spokeswoman. “So the bottom line for consumers at higher risk for listeria infection is to throw away any store-bought hard-boiled eggs or products containing hard-boiled eggs, regardless of brand or use-by date.”


WHAT HAPPENED, ACCORDING TO THE CDC

  • Seven people infected with the outbreak strain of Listeria monocytogenes have been reported from five states.
  • Four hospitalizations have been reported. One death has been reported from Texas.
  • Epidemiologic and laboratory evidence indicates that bulk hard-boiled eggs from Almark Foods are a likely source of this outbreak, but the investigation is ongoing to determine the source of contamination and if additional products are linked to illness.

WHAT THE CDC SAYS ABOUT LISTERIA

  • Listeriosis can cause different symptoms, depending on the person and the part of the body affected.
  • Pregnant women typically experience only fever and other flu-like symptoms, such as fatigue and muscle aches. However, infections during pregnancy can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, premature delivery or life-threatening infection of the newborn.
  • People other than pregnant women: Symptoms can include headache, stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance, and convulsions in addition to fever and muscle aches.
  • People with invasive listeriosis usually report symptoms starting one to four weeks after eating food contaminated with listeria; some people have reported symptoms starting as late as 70 days after exposure or as early as the same day of exposure.
  • Listeriosis is treated with antibiotics.