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Latest Listeria outbreak causes devastating outcomes — but what can be done to protect consumers?

This week (w/c 17 June), four of the UK’s largest retailers issued urgent health warnings to customers who had recently purchased a cheese that could contain Listeria.

The urgent warning comes after the cheese product, from a leading Irish supplier, was found to be at risk of containing Listeria monocytogenes, with those who come across it being urged to not eat the product.

Listeria can present flu-like symptoms and is particularly dangerous to elderly people, children, pregnant women and those with a weak immune system.

It’s not uncommon for food items to cause Listeria outbreaks. The NHS states foods that have a high risk of contamination with listeria include: Unpasteurised milk; dairy products made from unpasteurised milk; soft cheeses like camembert and brie and chilled ready-to-eat foods, like prepacked sandwiches, pâté and deli meats.

It comes following another outbreak of Listeria that we wrote about recently, involving pre-packaged sandwiches in hospitals, causing the tragic deaths of three people.

At present, suppliers are subject to annual checks and six-monthly reviews, with thorough investigations carried out with environmental swabs taken and samples of the products sent for testing. Stringent actions are already in place, but perhaps brands with a history of contamination need be kept under closer inspection to prevent a reoccurrence.

With 30-50 percent of Listeria cases fatal, food manufacturers have a responsibility to act quickly should a recall situation ever arise. As many of the products at risk will come from small to medium-sized enterprises with no specified recall manager, having a member of staff or close contact with an external recall management business can mean the difference between life and death.

While Listeria remains a leading cause of food-related recalls, we also see recalls in this category from packaging errors, allergens and other contaminants including Salmonella and E-coli. We’re also seeing an increasing number of recalls stemming from the supply chain, with rising instances of food fraud and corruption by suppliers, something that the food industry must pay close attention to.

A combination of notification services, contact centre support and an agile, global product removal team makes the difference between a successful food and beverage recall and a brand in crisis.

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