One dead in UK listeria outbreak linked to contaminated cheese as experts issue warning

Bacteria present at ‘exceptionally high levels’ in some Baronet cheeses

Emily Atkinson
Friday 24 March 2023 16:23 GMT
Related video: What Is Listeria

One person has died in a UK listeria outbreak linked to contaminated cheese, health experts have said.

The food standards watchdog and UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) are now warning the public not to eat Baronet semi-soft cheeses, which it said have been recalled due to being contaminated with listeria.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) said the bacteria were present at “exceptionally high levels” in some cheeses.

The UKHSA conducted whole genome sequencing surveillance of listeriosis samples and identified three cases potentially linked to an outbreak. The health body also announced that one person had died.

The outbreak strain has also been found in some food products and samples taken from food environments, however, there is no confirmation that Baronet is the root cause.

Baronet has a pinkish-orange rind and a pungent smell. It is sold in both small individual rounds and as 1kg wheels which may be cut down to order, the FSA said.

The product and its variations are all made by Wiltshire-based firm The Old Cheese Room.

The store said the recall of its products was a “precaution” after a created on 10 January was tested for a second time, with a positive result for Listeria Monocytogenes.

In a statement shared today, the Old Cheese Room said: “As a responsible cheesemaker we carry out regular cleaning, disinfecting and swab testing of our making and ripening rooms.

“We have now changed our monthly testing regime to positive release, this that we test every batch of cheese before it leaves our premises.”

The FSA recalled additional stock of Baronet after tests came back positive for Listeria Monocytogenes
The FSA recalled additional stock of Baronet after tests came back positive for Listeria Monocytogenes (The Old Cheese Room)

It also stressed that none of its other cheeses were contaminated.

One recall is for the 1kg Baronet, priced at £32, with best before dates of 21 March, 11 April, 12 April and 18 April 2023. The other two recalls are for the 270g Mini Baronet, costing £9, and 200g Baby Baronet.

The Mini Baronet is being recalled for three batches – 22 March, 10 April, and 18 April 2023.

The UKHSA and FSA have urged anyone who has purchased the recalled products not to eat them and to thoroughly clean any surfaces they might have touched.

It also said to ensure that fridges are kept at the right temperature – 5C or below – as this will limit the growth of any harmful bacteria.

Symptoms caused by listeriosis can be similar to flu, and include high temperature, muscle ache or pain, chills, feeling or being sick, and diarrhoea.

In rare cases, the infection can be more severe, causing serious complications, such as meningitis.

People most vulnerable to listeria infections should take extra care. This includes over-65s, pregnant women and their unborn babies, and babies less than one-month-old.

The UKHSA has also urged particular caution among people with weakened immune systems, such as those with cancer, HIV, underlying liver or kidney disease, or people undergoing immunosuppressive treatment.

In a statement, FSA head of incidents Tina Potter said:“Due to this outbreak of Listeria monocytogenes, we are urging consumers who are vulnerable to Listeria infection – including people who are pregnant and people with weakened immune systems to ensure they follow the advice in the product recall notices, which details all of the products which may pose a risk.

“We are also asking people to make sure that elderly relatives who may have purchased the recalled items, and who are at particular risk, are aware of the recall and observe the advice.

“Some foods carry a greater risk of listeria than others. These include soft cheeses, pate, smoked fish, chilled sliced meats and other chilled ready to eat products.”

Anyone who does fall ill with symptoms of listeriosis is advised to follow advice on the website and to report their illness to their local authority.

Richard Elson, Head of Incidents and response at UKHSA, said: “Listeriosis is a rare infection and most people will only experience mild symptoms such as abdominal pain or diarrhoea, which usually pass within a few days without the need for treatment. But people with weakened immune systems, who are pregnant, or are infants or elderly are at greater risk of developing severe symptoms.

“If you are in a group who are at higher risk of severe symptoms, there is information on the NHS website about what foods to avoid and what to do if you think you have listeriosis.”

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