Officials admit failures in German Listeria outbreak

Officials in a German district have apologized for mistakes made as part of an investigation into a Listeria outbreak in which one person died.

Four people were infected between October 2021 and January this year but the person died with, not because of, listeriosis. Contaminated cucumbers from one company have been linked to the illnesses.

Thomas Will, Groß-Gerau district administrator and Walter Astheimer, district health officer, said in the past two and a half years, there have been significant gaps in food controls and this had been a big mistake with hygiene deficiencies overlooked.

“We deeply regret that food contaminated with Listeria could come into circulation and several people fell ill because a company in Gernsheim was not properly checked for two years,” they said.

The company should have been checked more often but inspections were running behind because of the COVID-19 pandemic and a lack of staff resources.

Action to prevent potential larger outbreak
The public prosecutor’s office in Darmstadt is investigating the incident, which was made public by the German newspaper Welt Am Sonntag.

When details became known in late February to early March, Groß-Gerau officials starting investigating with the help of a food safety task force in the state of Hesse.

Various hygiene issues at the company then came to light and after an inspection in February, the high-risk part of the business was ordered to close. Afterward, the Hessian state laboratory reported the test results, which showed the fruit and vegetable business in Gernsheim was the source of the contamination.

Will said these actions meant a further health hazard could be ruled out but the district has already committed to changes such as improving reporting to avoid a repeat of the failures made.

The veterinary office’s structure in the district administration will change and it will become a unit jointly controlled by the district administrator and head of the health department to ensure a better exchange with food inspectors.

Consumer organization Foodwatch said two and a half years after a Listeria outbreak traced to Wilke meat products, which were also contaminated with Listeria and were linked to three deaths, fundamental weaknesses in food monitoring had not been remedied.

The group called for a reform of the system, more staff and said there is still a lack of political will to effectively protect consumers from unsafe food.

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