Listeria concerns

I REFER to your report (7 February) on the recall of a cheese following the finding of low levels of Listeria monocytogenes (Lm) when the cheese was tested in shops.

While it has to be accepted that recall was necessary in terms of current legislation, it is most important to stress that, as Barry Graham, the manager of the Creamery, stated, there was never any risk to health. Any perishable food may cause illness if the purchaser does not keep it in hygienic condition, but no-one suggests that perishable food should not be sold because of the risk of unhygienic handling by the purchaser.

Some parts of your report imply that unpasteurised cheese is a high-risk product in relation to food-borne infection from Lm, but this impression is misleading. In recent years, there have been no cases of listeriosis caused by consumption of raw milk cheese.

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The statement that unpasteurised cheese is “high risk” for listeria is without foundation. The cases of fatal listeriosis in UK hospitals are of course tragic, but the connection to food consumption is often not established (listeriosis is not always caused by eating contaminated foods) and almost all of them affect old people with failing immune systems.

I believe that the total number of cases of all types of listeriosis in Scotland and Northern Ireland in 2010 was 18 of which, using statistics available for the UK as a whole, the number attributable to food would have been less than four.

The following details perhaps present a balanced picture of the real situation in the UK: between 1999 and 2011 there were eight outbreaks of food-borne listeriosis in UK hospitals, resulting in eight deaths. Two further fatalities were reported in hospitals in Northern Ireland and Wales in 2012. These outbreaks were all linked to the consumption of chilled ready-to-eat foods, in particular various types of sandwiches.

HJ Errington