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Listeria Fallout from HCPE Plant Widens


During the past two weeks food manufacturers have recalled products including salads and snack kits containing hard cooked peeled eggs (HCPE) in whole or diced forms. Recalls have involved as many as four national chains selling salads and products containing potentially contaminated eggs. The products were processed by a Gainesville, GA. plant incriminated in a seven-patient outbreak of listeriosis with the cases diagnosed in 2017 and in 2019. The plant has temporarily suspended production to allow thorough decontamination followed by surveillance for Listeria before resuming production.


The recognition of seven cases in five states spread over the end of 2017 and again in 2019 is attributed to the use of a database that receives notifications from a network of state and regional diagnostic laboratories.  This allows prompt identification of a small-scale foodborne outbreak even when cases are widely distributed among cooperating states. Whole genome sequencing allows positive correlation among isolates from individual cases in traceback investigations. It is possible to confirm the source of a pathogen if the identical strain is recovered from the environment or equipment in a processing plant.  In the case of peeled eggs, with a relatively long shelf life, retention samples, representative of specific batches held at a plant can be sampled in an attempt to establish the presence of the suspected pathogen.


It is emphasized that contamination of egg products with Listeria is a function of the specific Gainesville plant involved.  Listeria is not associated with either flocks or shell eggs.  Pasteurized products should be free of Listeria contamination.