Hands reaching for cheese at deli counter

At least 16 people have been infected.

You might want to think twice the next time you go to the deli or get a craving for a club sandwich. An outbreak of listeria bacteria tied to contaminated meats and cheeses has been detected in at least six states across the country, from California to Maryland.

On Wednesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said investigators are currently working to narrow down the specific products or delis that may be contaminated with the bacteria. So far, the deadly strain has infected 16 people, including 13 hospitalizations and one death.

“The true number of sick people in this outbreak is likely higher than the number reported,” according to the CDC.

Wondering if anyone in your state has been affected? We have the details on where these cases are happening, plus how you can protect yourself.

First, what is listeria?

Also known as listeriosis, listeria is a foodborne bacterial illness that’s caused by eating foods contaminated with the germ Listeria monocytogenes, according to the Mayo Clinic. Deli counters and food processing facilities are common magnets for the infection because it can easily spread between food and equipment or surfaces.

The CDC estimates that roughly 1,600 people get sick with listeriosis each year, and about 260 die. But if you get infected, you might not know it until a few days later — in some cases, it can take as long as 70 days to spot the signs. Symptoms can also really run the gamut, ranging from fever and chills to nausea and diarrhea. In severe cases, it’s generally treated with antibiotics.

“Call your healthcare provider right away if you have any symptoms of severe Listeria illness after eating meat or cheese from a deli,” the CDC in its statement announcing the latest outbreak.

Where are most of these cases happening?

New York has the majority of these listeria cases, with seven falling sick, but the Empire State isn’t the only one reporting this deadly bacteria.

To date, there have been three other cases in Maryland, two each in Illinois and Massachusetts, and one in both New Jersey and California. But as the CDC points out, the outbreak may not be limited to these parts of the country and could be more widespread, so it’s important to be cautious no matter where you live.

Who are these cases affecting?

Those infected ranged in age from 38 to 92, with an average age of 74. Though more than half of those who fell sick were men, one woman suffered a miscarriage due to the infection after it spread through her placenta.

While most people don’t become seriously ill from listeria, it is still the third leading cause of death from food poisoning in the U.S. It can also be especially fatal to unborn babies, newborns, the elderly, and those with weakened immune systems. That’s why the agency is advising people not to eat meat or cheese from any deli counter without first reheating it to 165°F or until “steaming hot.”

But the Mayo Clinic points out that the bacteria can also survive refrigeration and even freezing. So it’s important to be extra careful around foods most likely to contain listeria bacteria, such as cold deli meats and unpasteurized dairy products. And if you suspect a surface or container has come into contact with listeria, the Food & Drug Administrations recommends cleaning everything with “warm, soapy water.”

What’s the source of this strain?

The CDC, along with state public health officials, the federal Food and Drug Administration, and the Department of Agriculture, are still trying to get to the bottom of the spread.

But five of the cases in New York were linked to deli meat at NetCost Market – this is the same grocery store that was the source of a previous outbreak in October 2021, though investigators believe other delis in multiple other states could be involved too with the latest strain.

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