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Food recall after listeria claims two lives in New Zealand

Updated: 2012-07-19 14:18

New Zealand food safety authorities began recalling packages of ready-to-eat meat after an outbreak of listeria, which was involved in the deaths of two people in the eastern North Island region of Hawke's Bay.

The Hawke's Bay District Health Board (HBDHB) issued a statement Thursday saying four people had been diagnosed with listeria two of whom were elderly and immune compromised and subsequently died.

HBDHB chief executive Kevin Snee said the HBDHB was working closely with the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) to establish the source of the outbreak.

Samples of ready-to-eat meats supplied to the hospital where the people fell ill had tested positive to listeria, Snee said in the statement.

All of the hospital's supplied ready-to-eat meat had since been quarantined and the results were part of an investigation into the source of the outbreak, he said.

Director of public health Caroline McElnay said in the statement that listeria had a long incubation period of up to several weeks.

Listeria was very rare in New Zealand, which had about 25 cases a year, but it was dangerous to pregnant women, their babies, the elderly and people with a lowered immune system.

It appeared that listeria caused one of the two deaths and was probably a contributing factor in the death of the other patient, said the statement.

Listeria monocytogenes is a bacteria that can cause a serious illness called listeriosis. It is a common bacterium, which is widely found in dust, soil, water, plants, sewage and animal droppings, and can be transferred through food, even if the food has been properly refrigerated.

The Ministry for Primary Industries announced it was overseeing Hawke's Bay company Bay Cuisine's voluntary recall of ready-to-eat meat products, including hams, salami and pepperoni, after the bacterium was detected.

"MPI wants to ensure any unsafe food is not available for sale and that people do not eat any of the recalled products they may have bought already," MPI deputy director general compliance and response Andrew Coleman said in a statement.

The MPI advised anyone who had any of the recalled products not to eat them and to return them to where they bought them, or dispose of them.