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What's known (and what you can't know) about the deadly five-state listeria outbreak

Miami Herald - 12/19/2019

Dec. 19--A small, but deadly listeria outbreak connected to hard-boiled eggs is being investigated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the agency announced Wednesday evening.

Here's what's known so far:

Food: Fresh hard-boiled eggs from Almark Foods, a Gainesville, Georgia, company, the ones sold in peeled and in plastic pails to food service operators that buy in bulk. These eggs have not been recalled. This outbreak does not involve Almark's eggs sold at retail or eggs hard-boiled at restaurants or at the grocer or deli.

States hit: Florida, Texas, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Maine.

Number of sick: Seven sick, four hospitalized, one dead. The death was reported from Texas. That's a high hospitalization rate, though the sample size is small. Listeria usually hits about 1,600 Americans per year and kills 250.

What's the problem for consumers: Unlike outbreaks that involve a finished food product sold in stores, consumers are sort of eating blind. This is the same as when an ingredient supplier has a listeria or salmonella problem at a facility, such as the Mann Packing listeria situation this fall (or, fall 2017, for that matter).

As the CDC says, "Consumers will not be able to tell if products they've purchased from stores contain these eggs," so the responsibility falls on retailers and food service workers to avoid using these eggs, such as in ready-to-eat egg salad or deviled eggs.

The CDC advice for consumers: The groups at highest risk for listeria infection are newborn babies, senior citizens, pregnant women (stillbirths and miscarriages can result) and people with damaged immune systems "such as people with cancer or on dialysis," the CDC says.

For those groups, the agency counsels tossing out any store-bought hard-boiled eggs or products with hard-boiled eggs, such as egg salad. That doesn't include dishes made with eggs you hard-boiled at home. That does include, say, egg salad or similar products with hard-boiled eggs you bought at a store's deli counter or pre-packaged.

Also, if in a restaurant, ask if the establishment uses hard-boiled eggs bought in bulk and, if it does, which company produced those hard-boiled eggs.

"If they use hard-boiled eggs produced by Almark Foods, don't buy or order the product," the CDC says. "If they don't know where their hard-boiled eggs are from, don't buy or order the product."

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