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Health Advisory for Deli Meats and Cheeses

The Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) is advising people who are at higher risk for severe illness from Listeria to not eat meat or cheese from any deli counter unless it is reheated to an internal temperature of 165F or until steaming hot.

People are considered higher risk for severe Listeria illness if they are pregnant, are 65 or older, or have a weakened immune system due to certain medical conditions or treatments.

National health officials are investigation an outbreak of Listeria linked to deli meat and cheese. To date, 16 illnesses, 13 hospitalizations, and one fatality have been associated with this outbreak. Although no cases have been identified in Rhode Island, cases have been identified in Massachusetts and New York.

Listeria can cause severe illness (known as invasive listeriosis) when the bacteria spread beyond the gut to other parts of the body. Symptoms of severe illness usually start within two weeks of eating food contaminated with Listeria but may start as early as the same day or as late as 10 weeks after.

Deli meats (cold cuts, lunch meats, hot dogs, and pates sold at the deli) and cheeses are known sources of Listeria illness. This is because Listeria can easily spread among food on deli countertops, deli slicers, surfaces, and hands. Listeria is a hardy germ that can be difficult to fully remove once it is in the deli. It can survive and grow at cold temperatures in the refrigerator.

What People at Higher Risk Should Do

People who are pregnant, are 65 or older, or who have a weakened immune system due to certain medical conditions or treatments are at higher risk for severe Listeria illness. These individuals should take the following steps:

- Avoid meat or cheese from any deli counter, unless it is reheated to an internal temperature of 165F or until steaming hot. Listeria can grow on foods kept in the refrigerator, but it is easily killed by heating food to a high enough temperature.

- Clean your refrigerator, containers, and surfaces that may have touched deli meat or cheese from the deli.

- Call your healthcare provider right away if you have any symptoms of severe Listeria illness after eating meat or cheese from a deli. Symptoms can include fever, muscle ache, fatigue, headache, and stiff neck.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has information online about how the signs and symptoms of Listeria infection vary depending on the person infected (https://www.cdc.gov/listeria/symptoms.html).

What Businesses Should Do

- Follow USDA-FSIS best practices for controlling Listeria contamination in deli areas (https://www.fsis.usda.gov/guidelines/2015-0014).

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