Australian listeria source identified

By Rory Harrington

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Listeria monocytogenes, Listeria

The listeria outbreak that hit five Virgin Blue airline passengers in Australia has been traced to a poultry supplier in New South Wales (NSW).

GMI Food Wholesalers Pty Ltd, trading as Australian Poultry and Food Wholesalers, was named last week in connection with a spate of illnesses earlier this year from the potentially deadly bug. Media reports in the country said two pregnant women affected with listeria poisoning subsequently gave birth prematurely.

Prohibition order

The NSW government has slapped a prohibition order on the company’s plant in Wollongong banning it from manufacturing chicken products or any other ready-to-eat (RTE) meat. The order came into force on August 4 and will stay in place until further notice. The government said it delayed making an announcement for more than two weeks pending laboratory confirmation that the facility was the source of the listeria contamination.

Primary Industries Minister Ian Macdonald said: “Laboratory analysis finalised this week confirms the link that Listeria bacteria consumed by passengers on the Virgin Blue flights originated in the chicken processed at the Wollongong-based plant.

“Consumers can be assured that the contaminated product that was sent to Queensland has been isolated and removed from the marketplace.”

Chicken wraps

Although it was originally believed GMI had supplied other companies with contaminated chicken, no other firms were cited as being affected by NSW safety officials.

The investigation was launched after tainted airline food was linked a dramatic jump in listeria cases in the Australian state of Queensland. The probe centred on chicken wrap sandwiches served on Virgin Blue flights in May and June this year. The products were withdrawn from sale in June.

Suspicion

A Virgin Blue statement released in early August immediately raised suspicion that the source of the problem was a contaminated ingredient.

“It appears the likely source of the contamination was an ingredient supplied to the manufacturers of the wraps and not Virgin Blue or other companies who received the affected products,”​ said the company.

Dr Erin Groves, acting deputy director of the Queensland Health confirmed that the focus of the investigation would fall on meat processors whose processing and supply procedures would come under intense scrutiny.

"What we're needing to do is go out to all manufacturers that could possibly be implicated and do very extensive testing of how they process their meat, how they supply it to people who then on give it to people to consume - to actually find out whether there's things we can do to prevent further infection,"​ Groves said.

Listeriosis is a serious infection caused by eating food contaminated with the bacterium listeria monocytogenes, said the US Centers for Disease Control. The disease mainly affects older people, newborns, adults with weakened immune systems and pregnant women, who are 20 times more at risk of contracting the disease than other healthy adults.

Related topics: Food safety

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