Smoked salmon likely behind listeria deaths in NSW, Victoria – ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

Smoked salmon likely behind listeria deaths in NSW, Victoria

Updated July 24, 2019 19:25:57

Two people have died after contracting listeriosis — the infection caused by listeria bacteria — in NSW and Victoria, health authorities have confirmed.

Key points:

  • There have been listeriosis cases in three states, two of which have been fatal
  • It is understood those affected had eaten salmon produced in Tasmania
  • Authorities have issued a reminder about food preparation and storage

A third, non-fatal case of listeriosis is being investigated in Queensland.

A statement from Australia’s chief medical officer said investigations had indicated the infections were likely to have come from smoked salmon.

The victims were both over the age of 70 and had “significant underlying health conditions”, the statement read.

What is listeriosis?

  • Listeriosis is a serious and sometimes fatal bacterial infection
  • Symptoms can include fever, headaches, cramps, aches and pains, nausea and diarrhoea
  • It can be fatal in newborns, elderly people and people with a weakened immune system

It is understood the salmon originated from Tasmania, where most of the country’s salmon is produced.

Salmon naturally contains the bacterial listeria but for the elderly, the sick and for pregnant women the bacteria can be deadly even at normal levels.

The bacteria is most commonly found in chilled seafood, some fruits, soft cheeses, deli meats, refrigerated meat spreads, soft serve ice cream and unpasteurised dairy products.

“Unfortunately these foods pose a small but real risk to people who are vulnerable, so the message is really for vulnerable people to avoid these foods, rather than the general population,” said Tasmania’s Director of Public Health Mark Veitch.

Listeria bacteria can grow in refrigeration systems and though only produces mild symptoms in healthy people, can be deadly to people with lowered immune systems.

An outbreak of the bacteria in rockmelons caused a miscarriage and killed seven people across New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria and Tasmania in 2018.

Listeria infection starts with flu-like symptoms, including fever, chills, muscle aches and nausea, but it can take weeks for the symptoms to be felt.

The chief medical officer’s statement said the deaths were “a timely reminder for people to ensure that food is handled, prepared and stored safely, and that those most at-risk of listeriosis avoid certain foods”.

Salmon producers unaware of links

Tasmania’s Premier Will Hodgman said the state’s salmon producers had been cleared of any food safety law breaches.

“The public health officer has also been involved to assure Tasmanians and the suppliers and, indeed the recipients of Tasmanian salmon, as to the quality of that product,” he said in a statement.

“I’m advised that the investigations have determined there have been no breaches of national health standards by Tasmanian companies.”

Tasmania’s two largest suppliers said they were not aware of any evidence linking their companies to the infections.

In a statement Tassal said: “Tassal products have not been deemed unsafe, nor has it breached the Food Standards Code.”

Huon Aquaculture said its cold smoked salmon had recently been tested by health authorities and retuned no positive results for listeria and no breaches of Australian food standards.

A third Tasmanian smoked salmon producer, Petuna, also said it was not involved in the listeria cases.

All three companies said they were subjected to and complied with multiple independent audits.

Half of the smoked salmon consumed in Australia is imported. Tassal has about 30 per cent of the market and Huon about 20 per cent.

Topics: fishing-aquaculture, health, community-and-society, death, australia, nsw, qld, vic, tas, launceston-7250, hobart-7000

First posted July 24, 2019 14:09:36

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