Listeria Outbreak Linked to Hard-Boiled Eggs, CDC Says

Trisha Calvo

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Updates: The recall of hard-boiled eggs from Almark Foods has been expanded to include products sold directly to consumers. These include eggs sold in pillow and pouch packs, frozen and diced products, and protein kits with “best if used by” dates through March 2, 2020, that begin with the letter G. Brands include: Eggland’s Best, Giant Eagle, Kirkland Signature (Costco), Pete & Gerry’s, ShopRite, Vital Farms, and more. You’ll find a full list on the FDA’s website.

Trader Joe’s Egg Salad (6-ounce cups) and Trader Joe’s Old Fashioned Potato Salad (20-ounce trays) were recalled by the manufacturer, Bakkavor Foods USA, because they contain egg whites that had been recalled by Almark Foods because of possible contamination with listeria. The products, which have use-by dates up through and including Dec. 27, 2019, were shipped to Trader Joe’s stores in Alabama, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Maryland, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, North Carolina, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Vermont, and Wisconsin. This article was originally published Dec. 19, 2019. 

Seven people in five states have become ill with listeria infection from eating hard-boiled eggs that were shipped in bulk to stores and restaurants across the country, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Dec. 18. Four people have been hospitalized, and one person has died.

The eggs, which were peeled and packaged in 20- to 25-pound plastic pails, were produced by Almark Foods of Gainesville, Ga. The illnesses occurred between April 2017 and Nov. 12, 2019. The cases were in Florida, Maine, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Texas.

Almark Foods on Friday announced a voluntary recall of the eggs, which have expiration dates extending through the end of February 2020. The company said in a statement that it had stopped production of the eggs at its Gainesville facility to investigate the issue.  

In an email to Consumer Reports, Almark Foods said it is working with the Food and Drug Administration at the plant, which has been temporarily closed, to determine the root cause of the contamination. “Once the cause is found, the plant will be sterilized and inspected again by the FDA before it will reopen,” the email said. “The company is fulfilling orders from its two other plants in Arizona and in North Carolina.”

The eggs may have been sold as whole hard-boiled eggs or were used by restaurants and stores to make egg salad, deviled eggs, or other dishes. The CDC advises that retailers and restaurants not use or sell any hard-boiled eggs from Almark Foods. 

It’s important to note that Almark Foods-branded eggs, which are sold directly to consumers, are not involved in this outbreak, nor are other brands of packaged hard-boiled eggs, or eggs that stores or restaurants have hard-boiled themselves.

The CDC recommends that consumers at high risk for listeria infection not eat any store-bought products made with hard-boiled eggs, such as egg salad, no matter where you purchased them; throw them away. And before buying these products from a store or ordering them in a restaurant, ask whether the establishment uses eggs from Almark Foods. If it does, or if staffers aren’t sure, don’t buy or order these products. “This would include hard-boiled eggs that you see in salad bars or breakfast bars,” says James E. Rogers, Ph.D., director of food safety testing and research at Consumer Reports.

People at high risk for listeria infection are adults 65 and older, people on dialysis, those who have cancer or other conditions that suppress the immune system, and pregnant women. The biggest risk to pregnant women is that the bacteria can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, premature delivery, or a potentially deadly infection in a newborn. In the current outbreak, one victim was a newborn who was infected by its mother during her pregnancy, but the baby survived.

In July, the FDA sent a warning letter to Almark Foods after finding Listeria monocytogenes in the company’s processing facility during a routine inspection. 

On Aug. 6 the company responded in a detailed letter it asked the FDA to post online, outlining its sanitization of two relevant areas where the FDA had found listeria and its actions to address other concerns. 

About Listeria Infection

Cooking foods to the proper temperature—165° F—kills listeria. But unlike some other foodborne bacteria, listeria can continue to grow at refrigerator temperatures and can multiply rapidly, spreading from one food to another. “Listeria is most often a problem with ready-to-eat foods, like these precooked eggs,” Rogers says. Past listeria outbreaks were linked to hummus, cheese, and deli meat, for example. Listeria also can live for years on equipment in places food is prepared, including food-processing plants, grocery stores, and delis.

Not everyone exposed to listeria gets sick from it, but when they do, it can cause serious illness. About 94 percent of people who develop listeriosis—the name of the infection the bacteria causes—end up in the hospital. Roughly one-fifth of people who become sick from listeria die from the infection, leading to somewhere between about 260 and 500 deaths each year around the country.

Symptoms can begin one day to four weeks after eating foods contaminated with listeria, according to the CDC. These can include a fever along with diarrhea, muscle aches, or other gastrointestinal symptoms, and headache. If the infection spreads to the nervous system, victims may also experience a stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance, and convulsions.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published Dec. 19, 2019. It has been updated to include information about the Almark Foods recall.

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