Quick coordination quickly shuts down a Listeria outbreak
In January 2021, CDC, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and state and local health departments rapidly investigated a multistate outbreak of Listeria monocytogenes infections linked to queso fresco. A total of 13 illnesses were reported from 4 states, resulting in 11 hospitalizations and 1 death.
Several well-executed actions set this outbreak response apart. It took just 21 days from outbreak identification by CDC’s PulseNet to the announcement of a voluntary product recall. Since 2017, the median time between identifying an outbreak and a product recall for Listeria investigations has been 32 days. Prompt state response was also key. Within 10 days of opening the investigation, Connecticut and Maryland public health departments interviewed patients and sent teams to collect cheese for testing from stores where some of the sick people had shopped. They identified queso fresco as the culprit. Early sampling by state partners led to quick identification of the brands. Team members collaborated closely with FDA to present compelling investigational findings to the cheese producer and persuaded the company to halt production and recall these products from the five states where it had been distributed. Because Hispanic or Latino people, especially those who are pregnant, have been found to have higher risk of Listeria infections linked to soft cheeses, CDC ensured its outbreak updates were translated and rapidly posted online in Spanish.
Additional illnesses and deaths were prevented because of the swift, coordinated response of NCEZID and its partners.