A listeria outbreak that’s led to at least 13 hospitalizations, one death, and one pregnancy loss has been linked to deli meats and cheeses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). So far, the outbreak has caused illnesses in New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Maryland, Illinois, and California.
The CDC didn’t name specific types of deli meats or cheeses or certain brands that have been linked to the outbreak, but it cautioned against cold cuts, lunch meats, hot dogs, and pâtés. No recalls have been issued yet.
Listeria is a type of bacteria that easily spreads on deli countertops and deli slicers, the CDC notes, adding that the pathogens can survive and grow in cold temperatures. Most people infected with listeria don’t get critically sick, but certain people are more likely to develop severe illness (which may require hospitalization), including pregnant people, anyone over the age of 65, and anyone with a weakened immune system. The potential risks for both pregnant people and their fetuses are serious: A listeria infection during pregnancy can lead to a miscarriage, stillbirth, premature delivery, or a life-threatening infection, the CDC says.
If you’ve recently eaten deli meat or cheese and start to notice symptoms of listeria, you should see a doctor ASAP. Warning signs of the illness can vary from person to person, but may include fever and flu-like symptoms (like muscle aches, headache, and fatigue), as well as digestive issues like vomiting or diarrhea. In severe cases, listeria infection can cause a stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance, and even seizures. People who get severely ill from a listeria infection can sometimes be treated with antibiotics.
To be on the safe side, you should probably just throw out any recently purchased deli meat or cheese, or make sure it’s steaming hot (at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit) before eating it because heat kills the bacteria, the CDC advises. You should also thoroughly clean your kitchen if you’ve recently purchased any deli meat or cheese. The CDC recommends disinfecting your refrigerator, any food containers, and all kitchen surfaces that may have come into contact with the potentially contaminated food.
Given that the CDC is still trying to identify what food, exactly, caused the outbreak, it might be in your best interest to avoid the deli counter at your local supermarket for now, especially if infections have been confirmed in your state. Listeria can live for a long time in deli display cases and on equipment, so it’s not a bad idea to switch up your usual sandwich once lunchtime rolls around.