Updated November 10th, 2022

Since we published this story in early November, the latest listeria outbreak has sent more people to the hospital, causing at least one death and one lost pregnancy. People are getting sick from deli meat and cheese, in six states that span the entire country, including seven in New York, three in Maryland, two in Massachusetts and two in Illinois, and one each in California and New Jersey.

Pregnant women are at higher risk than the rest of the population, so if you or someone you know is pregnant, read this, and avoid these foods.

The recent outbreak of listeria has been tied to deli meat and cheese, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns. So far one person has died, 16 others have been stricken, aged 38 to 92, and the bacterial infection has resulted in a lost pregnancy, the CDC  announced Wednesday.

Listeria Can Cause Serious Illness, Loss of Pregnancy, and Death

The latest food recall was initially limited to soft cheeses contaminated with Listeria but the recent warning has widened it to include deli meats, perhaps because they became infected when they came into contact with the bacteria at deli counters. The CDC warns that if you have any of the recalled cheese you need to disinfect the surfaces and your fridge that came into contact with the tainted cheese.

What is Listeria and should you be concerned? If you are pregnant, yes. In fact, it can have devastating consequences including miscarriage. If you are over the age of 65 and have a weakened immune system you also need to be aware of what causes Listeria and how to keep yourself safe.

What is Listeria?

Listeria is a foodborne bacterial illness that can cause premature births, the death of the unborn baby, miscarriage, and other serious outcomes for pregnant women, who may just think they are suffering from the flu or aches and pains. Here is everything you need to know about Listeria right now, and why it's important to throw away any potentially recalled brie and camembert cheese that could be contaminated with Listeria sitting in your fridge.

The original recall, of brie, baked brie, and camembert started in September and was expanded in late October to include more cheeses. Do not eat soft cheeses from the retailers listed below, and to be safe, avoid these cheeses in restaurants, airports, on flights, catering halls, and other places where you don't know where the cheese came from.

A Widespread Cheese Recall Due to Listeria

According to the CDC, the following cheese is a risk and should be thrown away and all surfaces that came into contact with the cheese should be cleaned and disinfected.

Brie, baked brie, and camembert cheeses made by Old Europe Cheese, Inc. of Benton Harbor, Michigan, are being voluntarily recalled across multiple states due to potential health risks caused by contamination with Listeria monocytogenes, an organism that can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in newborns, young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems.

Pregnant women are especially at risk from Listeria since the bacteria infection can cause premature birth, miscarriage, or loss of pregnancy as well as the death of a newborn.

The recalled cheese is sold under the following brand names:

  • Black Bear
  • Block & Barrel
  • Charmant
  • Cobblestone
  • Culinary Tour
  • Fredericks
  • Fresh Thyme
  • Glenview Farms
  • Good & Gather
  • Heinen’s
  • Joan of Arc
  • La Bonne Vie
  • Lidl
  • Life in Provence
  • Market 32
  • Matrie’d
  • Metropolitan
  • Prestige
  • Primo Taglio
  • Red Apple Cheese
  • Reny Picot
  • St. Louis
  • St. Randeaux
  • St. Rocco
  • Taste of Inspiration
  • Trader Joe

The recalled cheeses were sold at stores nationwide and in Mexico including:

  • Albertsons
  • Giant Foods
  • Lidl
  • Stop & Shop
  • Whole Foods
  • And many more

See the full list of stores that received recalled cheeses, according to the CDC. The "best-by" dates are from September 28, 2022, to December 14, 2022. For questions about recalled cheese, contact Old Europe Cheese at 269-925-5003 ext. 335.

The recalled cheeses were distributed to 80 stores across these states:

  • Alabama
  • Louisiana
  • Maine
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • New Hampshire
  • Rhode Island
  • Vermont

Who Is Most at Risk from Listeria?

Listeria is a foodborne bacterial illness that can be extremely serious for pregnant women, anyone over the age of 65, and anyone with a weakened immune system, according to the Mayo Clinic. It's most commonly caused by eating improperly processed deli meats and unpasteurized milk products.

Healthy people rarely become ill from listeria infection, but the disease can be fatal to unborn babies, newborns, and people with weakened immune systems. Prompt antibiotic treatment can help curb the effects of listeria infection.

Listeria bacteria can survive refrigeration and even freezing. So people who are at higher risk of serious infections and pregnant women should avoid eating the types of food most likely to contain listeria bacteria. When do you usually start to have symptoms? That depends.

  • Listeria can cause severe illness (known as invasive listeriosis) when the bacteria spread beyond the gut to other parts of the body.
  • People with invasive listeriosis usually report symptoms 1 to 4 weeks after eating food contaminated with Listeria.
  • Some people have reported symptoms starting later, even as late as 70 days after exposure or as early as the same day of exposure.
  • Almost all severe illnesses from Listeria result in hospitalizations and occasionally death.
  • Symptoms of severe Listeria usually start within 2 weeks after eating food contaminated with Listeria but may start as early as the same day or as late as 10 weeks after.

Listeria Symptoms

Pregnant people and their newborns, adults 65 years or older, and people with weakened immune systems are at higher risk for severe illness, according to the CDC. Others can be infected with Listeria, but they usually get mild food poisoning symptoms, like diarrhea and fever, and usually recover without treatment.

  • People who are not pregnant may experience headaches, stiff necks, confusion, loss of balance, and convulsions, in addition to fever and muscle aches.
  • Pregnant people usually experience only fever, fatigue, and muscle aches. However, Listeria can cause pregnancy loss or premature birth. It can also cause serious illness or death in newborns.

How Do You Diagnose Listeria?

Listeriosis is usually diagnosed when a bacterial culture (a type of laboratory test) grows Listeria monocytogenes from body tissue or fluid, such as blood, spinal fluid, or the placenta.

How Do you Treat Listeria?

If your doctor determines that you have been infected with Listeria, they can give you a course of antibiotics that will kill the bacteria.

How Do You Get Listeria?

Listeriosis is most often caused by eating food contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes which can develop in dairy such as cheese that is made from unpasteurized milk.
The most frequent outbreaks in the 1990s were from deli meats and hot dogs, however, more recently Listeria outbreaks have been linked to dairy products and produce. Investigators have traced recent outbreaks to soft cheeses, celery, sprouts, cantaloupe, and ice cream.

Soft cheeses made with unpasteurized milk are estimated to be 50 to 160 times more likely to cause Listeria infection than cheese that is made with pasteurized milk. Note that some labels call unpasteurized milk "raw milk," so avoid those if you are in a risk group.

Pasteurization of milk does kill Listeria, though it's possible for products made from pasteurized milk to become contaminated if they are produced in facilities with unsanitary conditions.

How to Protect Yourself from Listeria

  • Check the labels. Make sure your products say “Made with pasteurized milk,” according to the CDC website.
  • If you are pregnant or have a weak immune system, stay away from soft cheeses including those made from pasteurized milk, such as queso fresco, since they have also caused Listeria infections.

What to Eat Instead:

Non-dairy alternatives to cheese are available that are made from plant-based milk and are delicious alternatives to dairy. For a list of the best-tasting, healthiest dairy-free cheeses, milk, non-dairy coffee creamers, and other dairy-free alternatives, see these taste tests:

What You Should Do If You Have the Recalled Cheeses

Do not eat recalled cheese. Throw it away and disinfect all surfaces that came into contact with the recalled cheese.

Listeria can survive in the refrigerator and can spread to other foods and surfaces.

According to the CDC, if you bought brie or camembert cheese in any of the states listed above, check this list of stores that received recalled bulk cheese.

Next, you need to scrub and disinfect all surfaces that could have touched the cheese. Clean your refrigerator, containers, utensils, plates, cutting boards, and surfaces that may have touched the recalled cheese.

Bottom Line: If You're Pregnant or Have a Weakened Immunity Avoid Soft Cheese

Check your refrigerator and make sure you don't have any of the soft cheeses by the brands listed above. Additionally avoid brie and camembert at restaurants, airports, flights, and other places where you don't know where it came from or who made it.

If you have any symptoms of severe Listeria illness within days or weeks after eating recalled cheese, call your doctor right away and ask to get tested for Listeria.
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