By: Candess Zona-Mendola

The United States Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) put the public on notice of another Listeria health alert this week. According to the FSIS release on January 6, 2017, Dion’s restaurant chain sold sliced deli meats made by its New Mexico-based parent-company Peter DeFries Corporation that potentially are compromised with Listeria monocytogenes. With another recall on the heels of the CRF Frozen Foods recall and Blue Bell’s second Listeria scare, many consumers are concerned that they may be waiting around for symptoms to show.

The FSIS Alert and Dion’s Involvement

The FSIS has been forthcoming with information concerning the alert and recall. The FSIS confirmed that it identified various Dion’s restaurants in three states – Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas – that are potentially at risk for the contamination. The cities include: Colorado Springs, Colorado; Albuquerque, Rio Rancho, Bernalillo, Los Lunas, Santa Fe, and Las Cruces, New Mexico; and Lubbock, Texas. The Peter DeFries Corporation made the potentially contaminated deli meats between December 14, 2016 and December 29, 2016 and Dion’s used them from mid-December of 2016 until about January 4, 2017. Dion’s purportedly used the recalled meats on various menu items, including pizzas, sandwiches, and salads. The meats themselves consisted of roast beef, ham, pastrami, and turkey. On its Facebook, Dion’s confirmed that, as of January 5, 2017, it began using deli meat from an alternative source. Whether the affected restaurants have been properly sanitized and decontaminated, has not been mentioned.

The FSIS did not mention in its alert that anyone has come forward with a reported case of Listeriosis linked to the recall. The New Mexico Department of Health, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, and the City of Lubbock Health Department have not issued any announcements of cases or involvement in the FSIS investigations. According to the FSIS alert,

“The problem was discovered through routine testing conducted as part of the Peter DeFries Corporation’s Listeria testing program. Anyone concerned about an illness should contact a health care provider… Consumers who have purchased these products from Dion’s restaurants are urged not to consume them. These products should be thrown away or returned to the place of purchase…”

Dion’s and its parent company Peter DeFries Corporation released a Facebook and press release today about the recall. It appears that the company is assisting the FSIS in their investigation, and has launched a hotline for customers to call if they became ill or suspect they are ill. The hotline’s number is 505-515-2660. Dion’s Chief Executive Officer Mark Herman mentioned in the press release,

 “Food safety is our number one priority. We are currently serving safe, high-quality pre-sliced products from our normal vendors. We are working with our partners at the USDA to resume our in-house deli meat slicing operation.”

It seems now all there is to do is wait to see if anyone is ill or was ill without knowing the source.

Listeria – The Deadly, Common, and Preventable Pathogen

Listeria is common. It is easily found in soil, water, raw milk, and in animal products. It is a hardy bacterium, that thrives in cold environments – like ice cream factories and meat processing plants. It causes approximately 1600 reported illnesses each year, resulting in almost 300 deaths. Governmental and food safety agencies alike consider it to be a deadly pathogen. Listeria has come under fire and governmental agencies have amped up their regulations of manufacturing facilities to keep Listeria contamination at a minimum. However, retail deli meat providers have not been pressed as hard as their manufacturing counterparts. This is one of the main reasons Listeria is so proximately linked to deli meats.

Listeria contamination is not new to processed lunch meats and deli operations. Deli meats have been associated with Listeria risks for a long time now. In fact, a 2015 study by Purdue University suggested that retail delis are at high-risk for the presence of Listeria as their cleaning protocols do not completely kill the bacteria. The study sampled various retail delis (4500 samples from 30 retail delis to be exact) contained in grocery stores owned by national retailers. Almost ten percent of these samples tested positive for Listeria. All the more concerning, 70% of these delis had positive Listeria samples. Contamination was confirmed on many different surfaces, including meat slicers, floors, and even door knobs. That was just looking at grocery stores.

A long incubation period from contracting the illness to showing symptoms is part of the concern. Once a person ingests a food containing Listeria, it may take anywhere from 3 to 70 days for symptoms to appear – if any telltale symptoms do indeed appear. As the typical healthy adult will not exhibit symptoms and infections are not frequently reported, Listeria can remain in one place for a long period of time. As the elderly, the very young, those with compromised immune systems, and pregnant women are at the most risk for a severe Listeria infection, it is likely that the bacteria has survived at the source of the contamination for a long period of time. These issues make it incredibly difficult for health departments to secure serotyping (or a DNA fingerprint) of the bacteria and identify illness clusters.

Despite these concerns, Listeria infections and contamination are preventable. Listeria may be hardy in cold environments, but is easily killed by heating foods to a temperature of at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Mild bleach solutions are confirmed to be good cleaning materials to kill Listeria from surfaces. Even with these practices, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that individuals in the high-risk group for Listeriosis forgo eating foods that have a risk of Listeria contamination. These include: deli meats, pates, meat spreads, unpasteurized dairy products, soft cheeses, sprouts, hot dogs, and smoked seafood.

Listeriosis Infection

As previously stated, the elderly, the very young, those with compromised immune systems, and pregnant women are at the most risk for a severe Listeria infection. Signs and symptoms of Listeriosis include, “Fever, stiff neck, confusion, weakness, vomiting, sometimes preceded by diarrhea” according to Many times, people in this high-risk group have complaints of flu-like symptoms. However, the infection can turn invasive and spread outside of the gastrointestinal tract. This could lead to additional severe ailments, like sepsis and meningitis. Pregnant women with Listeriosis may suffer from miscarriages, still births, or premature delivery of their fetuses. Fetuses can also contract life-threatening infections and have potentially life-long health problems. In fact, pregnant women are 20 times more likely to succumb to Listeriosis.

The good news is that early medical treatments could prevent further spread of the disease. Typically, physicians treat Listeriosis patients with antibiotics and supportive care.

As always, if you or someone you love are showing signs or symptoms of Listeriosis or have recently eaten food from any of Dion’s restaurants, immediate medical attention is recommended.