Ice Cream Company Denies Speculation, Urges Caution
An ice cream brand that has been linked to a recent outbreak of Listeria monocytogenes infections is facing accusations from state and federal health officials. However, the company, Big Olaf Creamery, has denied any direct involvement and labeled the implications as pure speculation [^1^]. Six out of 23 patients mentioned consuming their ice cream, but the company asserts that their brand has not been confirmed to be linked to these cases [^1^].
CDC Identifies the Likely Source of the Outbreak
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that Big Olaf Creamery’s ice cream is the probable source of the outbreak affecting 23 individuals across 10 states. Unfortunately, the outbreak has resulted in the tragic death of a woman and fetal loss for a pregnant patient [^1^]. The CDC’s findings have raised questions about the company’s response to the situation. Bill Marler, a renowned food safety attorney, criticized Big Olaf for seemingly disregarding the scientific evidence and potentially endangering customers [^1^]. Marler expressed his concern, stating, “Why a company that knows it is under scrutiny for a deadly Listeria monocytogenes outbreak would ignore the science and put customers at risk is really beyond comprehension, immoral and likely criminal” [^1^].
Public Health Entities Under Scrutiny
Seattle food safety attorney Bill Marler has filed a lawsuit on behalf of a woman who tragically lost her life in January this year, leading to further scrutiny of the public health entities involved in the outbreak investigation [^1^]. Marler criticized the Sarasota and Florida Departments of Public Health for not taking more decisive action, such as stopping production, initiating a recall, and ensuring public safety [^1^].
Big Olaf Creamery’s Response to the Outbreak
Big Olaf Creamery has advised stores to cease selling its products, but it has not yet issued a recall [^1^]. The company, founded in 1982, operates 15 retail locations throughout Florida, offering ice cream for immediate consumption and take-home packages [^1^]. Some of these stores are licensed by Big Olaf, while others solely feature their products [^1^]. The company claims to have cooperated with the Florida Department of Health, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS), and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) since being informed about the outbreak [^1^]. Big Olaf emphasizes its commitment to transparency and ensuring the public’s health and well-being [^1^].
Epidemiological Investigation and Continued Caution
The Florida Department of Health leads the epidemiological investigation into the Listeria outbreak. Consumers are advised to avoid Big Olaf products until further notice [^1^]. Despite this advisory, some stores appear to not be heeding the Department of Health’s guidance [^1^]. The investigation is ongoing, and the Department of Health intends to contact establishments that serve Big Olaf products, recommending that they stop serving them [^1^].
The Spread of the Outbreak and Genetic Fingerprinting
The CDC’s report confirms that most cases of infection are linked to Florida, with the outbreak affecting individuals who either live in or traveled to the state [^1^]. Several other states, including Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania, have also reported cases [^1^]. Travel history shows that eight out of ten patients who provided information traveled to Florida in the month before falling ill [^1^]. While pinpointing the exact source of Listeria cases can be challenging due to the delayed onset of symptoms, genetic fingerprinting can identify cases originating from the same source [^1^]. Attorney Bill Marler highlights the significance of whole genome sequencing technology in food safety investigations, comparing it to DNA sampling in criminal cases [^1^].
Understanding Listeria Infections
Listeria monocytogenes is a harmful bacterium that can cause severe and potentially life-threatening infections. It is important to note that contaminated food may not exhibit any visible signs of spoilage [^1^]. Individuals who have consumed the implicated ice cream and subsequently develop symptoms should seek medical attention, informing healthcare professionals about the potential Listeria exposure [^1^]. Additionally, individuals who have consumed the ice cream should monitor themselves for symptoms for up to 70 days, as Listeria infections can have a prolonged incubation period [^1^]. Symptoms may include vomiting, nausea, persistent fever, muscle aches, severe headache, and neck stiffness [^1^]. Specific laboratory tests are necessary to diagnose Listeria infections, which can mimic other illnesses [^1^].
Vulnerable Populations at Higher Risk
Pregnant women, the elderly, young children, and individuals with weakened immune systems, such as cancer patients, are particularly vulnerable to severe illnesses, life-threatening infections, and other complications resulting from Listeria infection [^1^]. Even in cases where infected pregnant women experience mild, flu-like symptoms, the infection can lead to premature delivery, infection of the newborn, or stillbirth [^1^].
Remember, Ice Cream is a delightful treat, but let’s stay cautious and prioritize our well-being.
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Editor’s note: Bill Marler is the publisher of Food Safety News.