One person in the UK has died in a listeria outbreak, as public health bodies warn consumers not to eat Baronet semi-soft cheeses because of contamination discovered in some products at exceptionally high levels.
The Food Standards Agency (FSA) published an alert on Monday, which said that the Wiltshire-based Old Cheese Room manufacturer had extended its recall of Baronet, Baby Baronet and Mini Baronet soft cheeses because listeria had been found in some batches. These include pack sizes of 1kg, 270g and 200g, with best-before dates of 21 and 22 March, and 4, 10, 11, 12, 16 and 18 April.
Listeriosis is a serious infection usually caused by eating food contaminated with the bacterium – it can be particularly dangerous for pregnant people, those aged over 65, and people with a condition that weakens their immune system.
The FSA and UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said three cases of listeriosis had been potentially linked to an outbreak.
“The outbreak strain has also been found in some food products and samples taken from food environments, however there is no confirmation that Baronet is the cause of this outbreak,” the statement said.
However, the agencies noted that some of the cheeses were contaminated with “exceptionally high levels” of listeria.
“Baronet cheese is sold in both small individual rounds and as 1kg wheels. The cheeses are sometimes served sliced from a deli counter, so it may not always be clear whether you have purchased an affected product,” the agencies said.
“If in doubt, consumers are advised to contact the retailer they bought their cheese from to find out if the Baronet cheese they have purchased is from the batches affected and in the meantime to not eat the product.”
The agencies also said they are continuing to work closely with local authorities and will not rule out recalling other products.
While symptoms of listeriosis can be similar to flu, including chills, high temperature, aches and diarrhoea, in rare cases of severe infection there can be serious complications, such as meningitis.
Richard Elson, the head of incidents and response at UKHSA, said listeriosis is a rare infection and most people would experience only mild symptoms such as abdominal pain or diarrhoea for a few days without the need for treatment. However, some people are vulnerable to worse effects.
“People with weakened immune systems, who are pregnant, or are infants or elderly are at greater risk of developing severe symptoms,” he said.
“If you are in a group who are at higher risk of severe symptoms, there is information on the NHS website about what foods to avoid and what to do if you think you have listeriosis.”