The New Jersey company Buona Vita Inc. has recalled 324,770 pounds of its frozen meatball products due to possible contamination with the bacterium that causes listeriosis, a food-borne illness. There have been no reports of illness due to consumption of the meat products, some of which were distributed in Connecticut to wholesalers that serve a variety of restaurants, catering companies and school districts in the region.
The recalled products include a wide variety of meatballs made with varying combinations of beef, pork and chicken. Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection spokeswoman Claudette Carveth said the state will be performing effectiveness checks to make sure the product is pulled.
The problem was discovered through microbiological testing by the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service and the Ohio Department of Agriculture. On Tuesday, the Connecticut Department of Public Health issued a memo to directors of local health departments, chief sanitarians and certified food inspectors alerting them of the recall. Wednesday, the department sent a letter notifying these same entities that the distributor Napoli Foods had provided a list of more than 200 businesses in the state that it provided with Buona Vita products.
Another Connecticut distributor who received Buona Vita products, M & R Frosted Foods, serves the state's school districts. That company gave the department of public health a list of schools it provided with Buona Vita products, including Trumbull High School.
Though there are no known illnesses related to the possibly tainted product, the USDA has labeled this a "Class I Recall," meaning there is a "reasonable probability that the use of the product will cause serious, adverse health consequences or death."
Listeria monocytogenes is a bacterium commonly found in water and soil. Animals can acquire and carry it without showing signs of illness. This can lead to contamination of foods using animal products, including meat and dairy. Though listeria is killed by pasteurization and cooking, it -- unlike most bacteria -- can grow and multiply in some foods in the refrigerator.
The bacteria can cause an illness called listeriosis, of which there are about 1,600 cases annually in the United States. For the majority of people, listeriosis isn't life-threatening, said Dr. David Hill, professor of medical science and director of global public health at the Frank H. Netter School of Medicine at Quinnipiac University in Hamden. "For most people, you get it and it passes through your system and there's no problem," he said. But for some people, Hill said, listeriosis can lead to potentially life-threatening illnesses like bloodstream infections and meningitis. Those vulnerable to severe infections include babies, the elderly, pregnant women and others with compromised immune systems. "This can lead to devastating infections for them," he said.
Last year, there was a multistate outbreak of listeriosis linked to cantaloupes from Jensen Farms, Colorado. More than 100 people became ill from the outbreak and about 30 people died.
To protect yourself from contracting listeriosis, the USDA recommends some precautions, including washing hands for at least 20 seconds with warm, soapy water before and after handling raw meat and poultry. Also, wash cutting boards, dishes and utensils with soap and hot water, and use separate cutting boards for raw and cooked foods. Hill also advises against eating unpasteurized dairy products and drinking unpasteurized milk, and recommended that all meat be cooked thoroughly.
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