NSW Health warns of listeriosis risk

 NSW Health and the NSW Food Authority have renewed calls for high risk groups to be wary of foods that cause listeriosis after a sudden increase in cases across the state this year.

The two government bodies are investigating 14 cases of the infection reported to date, including three deaths, all of which have affected people in high risk groups.

Listeriosis is caused by eating food contaminated with a bacterium called Listeria monocytogenes, which is extremely harmful to those who are older, pregnant or have underlying health conditions, such as cancer, diabetes, heart and kidney disease.

Listeriosis starts with flu-like symptoms such as fever, chills, muscle aches, nausea, and sometimes diarrhoea. The symptoms can take a few days or even up to six weeks to appear after eating contaminated produce.

The outbreak has been linked to a grower in Nericon NSW. The company voluntarily ceased production on Friday 23 February 2018, shortly after being notified of a potential link to illness and is working proactively with the Authority to further investigate how any contamination could have occurred in order to get back into production as soon as possible.

Dr Vicky Sheppeard, Director Communicable Diseases NSW Health, said all 14 cases this year are in people with significant underlying medical conditions, and most are over 65 years of age.

“We’re working closely with the NSW Food Authority to determine the source of the infections. With this growing number of cases, it’s timely for us to remind people in high risk groups to avoid foods that cause listeriosis,” Dr Sheppeard said.

“Eating foods that contain Listeria bacteria does not cause illness in most people, but in higher risk groups it can result in severe illness and even death so it’s vitally important these people take extra care at all times.”

People at increased risk of listeriosis, including those who are older, pregnant, have diabetes, kidney disease, liver disease, HIV, or have weakened immune systems – for example those on cancer treatment or corticosteroids – are reminded to avoid the following foods:

  • Pre-cut melons such as rockmelon or watermelon
  • Pre-packed cold salads including coleslaw and fresh fruit salad
  • Pre-cooked cold chicken, cold delicatessen meats, pâté
  • Raw seafood, uncooked smoked seafood (e.g. smoked salmon)
  • Unpasteurised milk or milk products, soft cheeses (e.g. brie, camembert, ricotta or blue-vein)
  • Sprouted seeds or raw mushrooms.

Care should be taken not to contaminate fruit when cutting it and not to store cut fruit and vegetables that are eaten raw. Listeria survives refrigeration.

The NSW Food Authority and NSW Health will continue to work with other jurisdictions to monitor the situation.

For further information see the Listeriosis fact sheet and the NSW Food Authority Food safety during pregnancy brochure.