EUROPE – Experts from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) have pinpointed ready-to-eat fish products, notably smoked salmon, as the likely culprit behind a persistent multi-country outbreak of Listeria monocytogenes.

The outbreak, spanning Austria, Belgium, Italy, Germany, and the Netherlands from 2022 to 2023, has sent shockwaves through Europe, with 17 reported cases and two tragic deaths, primarily affecting the elderly.

Advanced molecular typing techniques have unraveled a specific variant of Listeria monocytogenes, prevalent in the majority of cases during 2022-2023.

The genomic cluster (sequence type 155, serogroup IIa) has roots dating back to 2011, with sub-cluster 1 emerging as the focal point in this latest assessment.

The investigation points to two establishments in Lithuania, acting as the epicenter during the outbreak. These establishments were responsible for introducing contaminated fish products into the retail markets of Germany and Italy, perpetuating the spread of Listeria infections.

A Lithuanian plant, implicated in the contamination, has ceased production, offering a glimmer of hope in curbing the risk.

The persistence of the sub-cluster 1 strain in one processing plant over eight years has raised red flags.

Although production interruptions in one Lithuanian plant are expected to mitigate infections, the investigation underscores the need for targeted efforts to identify contamination points in the ready-to-eat fish production chain.

While the interruption of production in one plant is a positive step, experts predict the likelihood of new cases, especially among vulnerable populations. Further investigations are imperative to identify the origins of contamination, allowing for targeted control measures.

Consumers are advised to exercise caution by maintaining low refrigerator temperatures to inhibit bacterial proliferation in ready-to-eat foods, emphasizing the importance of following good manufacturing practices and hygiene rules throughout the food production and distribution chain.

Even while food tainted with Listeria monocytogenes may not appear or smell rotten, it can nonetheless result in serious infections that can occasionally be fatal. Anybody who has consumed a recalled product and experienced signs of a Listeria infection should consult a doctor and report any suspected exposure to the bacteria.

Additionally, given signs of listeriosis can take up to 70 days to manifest following exposure to Listeria, anyone who has consumed any of the recalled products should keep an eye out for symptoms in the upcoming weeks.

A Listeria infection can cause nausea, vomiting, a prolonged fever, headaches, muscle aches, and stiff necks. Due to their ability to mimic other ailments, Listeria infections must be diagnosed by specialized laboratory testing.

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