Listeria outbreak in Europe reaches record levels in 2022

Europe faced a serious challenge in food safety in 2022, as the number of listeria cases reached a record high. According to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), there were 3,227 confirmed cases of listeriosis in the EU/EEA countries last year, an increase of 12% from 2021. Listeriosis is a severe infection caused by the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes, which can be found in contaminated food products such as cheese, meat, and vegetables. Listeriosis can cause fever, headache, diarrhea, and sometimes more serious complications such as meningitis, septicemia, and miscarriage.

One of the main sources of the listeria outbreak in 2022 was a cheese factory in France, which produced various types of soft and semi-soft cheeses under different brand names. The factory was identified as the origin of a multi-country outbreak that affected 27 people in six countries, including 12 deaths. The outbreak was detected by whole genome sequencing, a technique that allows the comparison of the genetic fingerprints of the bacteria. The cheese products were recalled from the market, but some of them had a long shelf life and could still be consumed by unaware customers.

Listeria outbreak in Europe reaches record levels in 2022
Listeria outbreak in Europe reaches record levels in 2022

Listeria outbreak in Spain affects pregnant women and newborns

Another major listeria outbreak in 2022 occurred in Spain, where 225 cases were reported, including 53 pregnant women and 21 newborns. The outbreak was linked to a meat product called “la mechá”, a type of pork loin stuffed with garlic and spices. The product was manufactured by a company in Seville, which distributed it to several regions in Spain. The outbreak was declared over in October 2022, after the authorities implemented strict control measures and recalled all the affected products. The outbreak was the largest ever recorded in Spain and one of the largest in Europe.

Listeria outbreak in Germany associated with smoked fish

A third listeria outbreak in 2022 was reported in Germany, where 37 cases were identified, including six deaths. The outbreak was associated with smoked fish products, such as salmon and trout, produced by a company in Saxony-Anhalt. The company was closed by the authorities and all its products were withdrawn from the market. The outbreak was detected by routine surveillance and confirmed by molecular typing. The outbreak was the second largest in Germany in the last decade, after the one caused by sprouts in 2011.

Listeria prevention and control measures

Listeria is a serious threat to public health, especially for vulnerable groups such as pregnant women, elderly people, and immunocompromised individuals. The ECDC recommends that consumers should follow some basic hygiene practices to prevent listeria infection, such as:

  • Washing hands before and after handling food
  • Washing fruits and vegetables before eating them
  • Cooking meat and eggs thoroughly
  • Avoiding raw or unpasteurized dairy products
  • Refrigerating leftovers and consuming them within two days
  • Checking the labels and expiry dates of food products
  • Discarding any food that looks or smells spoiled

The ECDC also advises that food producers and retailers should comply with the food safety regulations and standards, and implement effective monitoring and traceability systems. The ECDC works closely with the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the national authorities to coordinate the response to listeria outbreaks and provide scientific and technical support.

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