Nearly 200 people have died from listeriosis since January 2017 in South Africa. Ready-to-eat meat products have been blamed for the biggest outbreak of listeria the world has seen.
In recent weeks countries like Australia, Namibia and now Austria, Denmark, Finland, Sweden and the United Kingdom have recorded listeria cases.
In the most recent case, 32 people have fallen ill due to what the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) suspects is frozen corn infected with listeriosis.
The listeriosis outbreak in Europe has resulted in the death of six victims.
EFSA, in conjunction with the European Centre for Disease Prevention, published a joint rapid outbreak assessment last week which states that frozen corn is the likely source of an outbreak of Listeria monocytogenes. The listeriosis outbreak has affected Austria, Denmark, Finland, Sweden and the United Kingdom.
Whole genome sequencing was used to to define the multi-country country listeria outbreak. Investigators also used this to identify the implicated frozen corn source. The particular corn manufacturer implicated is based in Hungary, with their corn being processed and packed in Poland. The joint report recommends that further investigation be conducted to identify the exact point of contamination in the food chain.
Food operations in Sweden, Poland, Finland and Estonia have recalled the implicated products, as this is likely to reduce the risk of human infections in these countries.
However, new cases may still emerge due to the long incubation period of the listeriosis, the long shelf-life of frozen corn and the consumption of the implicated corn before recalls were instituted.
The report also advises tat European should adequately heat frozen corn to kill the listeria pathogen. This applies to the consumers with the highest risk of contracting listeriosis especially. These include the elderly, pregnant women, newborns and adults with compromised immune systems.
According to the report, the listeriosis outbreaks in Australia, Europe and South Africa are not related.
South Africa has experienced the listeriosis outbreak with the highest death toll across the globe.
The World Health Organization (WHO) released a statement last Thursday which recommended that meat products from South Africa do not need to be banned. The organization also deployed contingency experts to South Africa, Swaziland and Lesotho to assist in the increase of listeriosis awareness, enhancing laboratory diagnosis and active surveillance, as well as ensuring the readiness of Rapid Response Teams.