Blue Bell Creameries appears to be the source of a continuing listeria outbreak that has taken the lives of three victims in Kansas, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Listeria monocytogenes is a disease-causing bacterium that can lead to an illness called listeriosis, which can often be fatal. The microorganism can enter the food supply when fruits and vegetables are contaminated by animal waste.

Symptoms of listeria infection include gastrointestinal distress, muscle aches and fever. Healthy adults can consume the microorganisms without necessarily having an adverse reaction. However, children, seniors, and people with compromised immune systems are at much greater risk for becoming gravely ill following exposure.

Each year, roughly 1,600 Americans come down with the disease and 260 die from it. Antibiotics and the introduction of fluids into the body can alleviate most cases of exposure to listeria.

Unlike many other bacteria, listeria can reproduce in refrigerators. Thorough cooking – to temperatures of 165 degrees or higher – will kill the disease-causing organisms, but the bacteria can survive incomplete cooking to remain dangerous.

Eight people in Texas and Oklahoma checked into hospitals after consuming Blue Bell ice cream, and three patients in Kansas died. On April 3, the food manufacturer closed its plant in Broken Arrow, Okla., after a chocolate cup tested positive for the bacteria. That product – marketed for institutional use – became the subject of a nationwide recall, along with vanilla and strawberry varieties.

"On April 7, 2015, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration notified Blue Bell that the Banana Pudding Ice Cream pint tested positive for Listeria monocytogenes. This pint was produced in the Broken Arrow, Okla., plant on February 12, 2015. Subsequently, Blue Bell is recalling all products made on that one particular production line, from February 12, 2015 - March 27, 2015," read a Blue Bell Creamery press release. These products have a code date ending in either S or T.

The CDC recommends that consumers do not eat any recalled products and products made at the Blue Bell Creameries' Oklahoma facility. These products can be identified by checking for letters "O," "P," "Q," "R," "S," and "T" following the "code date" printed on the bottom of the product package.

Listeria has also been detected in hummus produced by Sabra Dipping Co., which has recalled 30,000 cases – or 360,000 containers – of its product in response to the contamination. Health officials in Michigan found the bacteria in a sample package obtained at a retail location. The bacteria has also been found in raw spinach, both conventional and organic, sold at Wegmans Supermarkets and other food outlets.

"This is a complex and ongoing multistate outbreak of listeriosis occurring over an extended period. The outbreak now consists of two clusters involving people infected with outbreak strains of Listeria monocytogenes," stated the CDC.

Health officials at the CDC are continuing to monitor the recent outbreak of the potentially deadly disease.

Photo : Zechariah Judy | Flickr

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