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CDC identifies possible source of listeria outbreak that killed 1 person, hospitalized 22

Most of the infected people in the outbreak live in or traveled to Florida within a month of infection, the CDC said.
The CDC is actively investigating a listeria outbreak.
The CDC is actively investigating a listeria outbreak.BSIP / UIG / Getty Images

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are warning consumers against purchasing or eating Big Olaf Creamery brand ice cream as the agency continues its investigation into a multistate outbreak of infections from listeria, a type of bacteria. The ice cream brand is only sold in Florida, according to the CDC. People most often get sick from listeria after eating contaminated food.

Last week, the CDC announced that a 10-state listeria outbreak had sent 22 people to the hospital and killed one person. In total, 23 illnesses have been recorded, according to a notice from the CDC. Twenty of the infected people had either traveled to Florida within a month of their diagnosis or live in Florida.

"Big Olaf Creamery in Sarasota, FL, is voluntarily contacting retail locations to recommend against selling their ice cream products," the CDC said in the notice. "Consumers who have Big Olaf Creamery brand ice cream at home should throw away any remaining product." The specific products that may be linked to the outbreak are still under investigation, the CDC added.

Public health officials have been speaking with people who've gotten ill in the outbreak and have found that, of the 17 people interviewed, 14 reported eating ice cream in the month before symptoms started. Of these, six said they either ate Big Olaf Creamery ice cream or ate ice cream at a location that might've served the brand.

Big Olaf Creamery responded to the CDC’s findings in a statement shared on social media, which reads in part: "For now it is only speculation as it is an ongoing investigation, our brand has not been confirmed to be linked to these cases, am not sure why only Big Olaf is being mentioned and targeted. ... 6 out of the 23 patients mentioned having consumed Big Olaf ice cream, but nothing has been proven. We have been cooperating with the Florida Department of Health, FDACS and the FDA as soon as we were informed about the situation. We have been transparent and have answered all their questions and provided them with all the information requested from us, as the health and well being of the public is our first priority."

The states where people have become ill in this outbreak are:

  • Colorado
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Illinois
  • Kansas
  • Massachusetts
  • Minnesota
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • Pennsylvania

"The true number of sick people in an outbreak is likely higher than the number reported, and the outbreak may not be limited to the states with known illnesses," the CDC noted. "In addition, recent illnesses may not yet be reported as it usually takes 3 to 4 weeks to determine if a sick person is part of an outbreak."

Reported cases so far have occurred between January 2021 and June 2022. The age of sick individuals ranges from less than 1 to 92 years old with a median age of 72. About 52% were male.

Eating food contaminated with the bacteria listeria can result in a serious infection called listeriosis. Listeria outbreaks are often linked to dairy products or produce, according to the CDC.

The symptoms usually begin within two weeks of eating a contaminated food, per the CDC, though it can also start the same day or up to 70 days after. Around 1,600 people get listeriosis in the United States every year, according to CDC data.

People at higher risk for illness from listeria include pregnant people and their newborns, people over the age of 65, and those with compromised immune systems. Although other populations can also be infected by the bacteria, the CDC said they "rarely become seriously ill."

The most common symptoms of listeriosis are fever and flu-like symptoms, such as muscle aches and fatigue. Other symptoms include headaches, stiff neck, loss of balance, confusion and seizures.

Listeriosis in pregnant people can also lead to life-threatening issues for the fetus, such as stillbirth, miscarriage, premature birth or infection of the newborn. In the current outbreak, five pregnant people got sick with one illness resulting "in a fetal loss," the CDC said.

The CDC urges people experiencing these symptoms to call their healthcare provider immediately, as well as to write down as much as they can remember about what they ate in the past month to assist in the investigation.

To prevent listeriosis, the CDC recommends knowing the foods most likely to be contaminated with listeria — such as soft cheeses with unpasteurized milk, raw or lightly cooked sprouts and melons left at room temperature for more than four hours, among others. The CDC also recommends staying up to date on food recalls to avoid consuming contaminated products.