The Recent Ham Product Recall Might Affect Your Christmas Dinner—What to Know About the Health Risk Involved

More than 230,000 pounds of pork products are being recalled due to a potential listeria contamination.

Got a pork product in your fridge? It's time to check the label. Alexander & Hornung is recalling more than 230,000 pounds of pork products over concerns about a possible listeria contamination.

Some of the company's fully cooked ham and pepperoni products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes (listeria), a bacteria that can cause people to develop a serious infection known as listeriosis, according to a December 5 announcement from the US Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS).

Ham Recall , Smoked Ham
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All of the impacted products—which were shipped to stores across the country—have the establishment number "EST. M10125" inside the USDA mark of inspection. You can view a full list of the 17 recalled products on the USDA's website.

Alexander & Hornung, which is a division of Perdue Premium Meat Co., Inc., notified the FSIS of the problem after product sampling showed positive listeria results. The company said in a statement on its website that the 234,391 pounds of product are being voluntarily recalled as a "precaution," adding that, "there is no conclusive evidence that the products were contaminated at the time of shipment." There have also been no confirmed reports of people getting sick with listeriosis after eating the products, the USDA says.

While no illnesses have been reported as of yet, you still might be wondering what listeriosis is. Here's what you need to know about the infection—and what to do if you have affected products.

What is listeriosis?

Again, listeriosis is an infection caused by the bacteria listeria. The bacteria itself is "generally transmitted when food is harvested, processed, prepared, packed, transported, or stored in environments contaminated with" listeria, as the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) explains it. If you eat food that's been contaminated with listeria, you can develop listeriosis.

An estimated 1,600 people get listeriosis each year, and about 260 of those people die from the infection, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

"Listeriosis is not as common as salmonella [another infection often involved in food recalls] by any means, [but] there's typically a graver outcome," John Linville, MPH, a food safety expert at the USDA's FSIS, previously told Health.

What are the symptoms of listeriosis?

While anyone can contract listeriosis if they've eaten food contaminated with listeria, the infection is most likely to impact pregnant people and their newborns, people aged 65 years or older, and those with weakened immune systems, the CDC says.

Listeriosis can cause a range of symptoms, depending on who is infected. In general, people may experience diarrhea and a fever, according to the CDC. Other symptoms can include:

  • Headache
  • Stiff neck
  • Confusion
  • Loss of balance
  • Convulsions

Pregnant people are likely to have the following symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle aches
  • Miscarriage
  • Stillbirth
  • Premature delivery
  • Life-threatening infection of the newborn

"The mother themselves may have only mild flu-like symptoms, but [listeria] can pass through the placenta and cause stillbirth and deformities in fetuses," Linville said.

Symptoms can show up anywhere from one to four weeks after a person eats contaminated food, though they can appear earlier or later than that. In fact, the CDC reports that some people have developed symptoms of listeriosis starting as late as 70 days after exposure or as early as the same day of exposure.

What should you do if you have any of the recalled products?

If you happen to have any of the products at home, the USDA recommends throwing them away or returning them to the place where you bought them to avoid any potential listeriosis infection. And no, freezing the product will not eliminate the bacteria—listeria can grow at refrigeration and survive freezing—so if your meat was in the freezer, you'll still want to throw it away. To help you figure out if you have any of the recalled products, the USDA has provided photos of what the labels look like.

If you ate food possibly contaminated with listeria and don't feel sick, the CDC says that most experts believe you don't need any tests or treatment. Still, you should talk with your doctor if you have any questions.

If you think you've already eaten potentially affected product and do develop symptoms within two months after eating the possibly contaminated food, the CDC suggests getting medical care. Getting that care is especially important if you fall into any of the high-risk categories previously mentioned.

If you do wind up getting a serious case of listeriosis, it can be treated with IV antibiotics ampicillin and gentamicin for 14 to 21 days, the CDC says. Pregnant people who develop symptoms should also be treated with IV ampicillin, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG).

Regardless of whether you experience symptoms, the FDA says you should "wash the inside walls and shelves of the refrigerator, cutting boards and countertops, and utensils that may have contacted contaminated foods." Once you've washed any surface the contaminated product might have touched, you should then "sanitize the surfaces with a solution of one tablespoon of chlorine bleach to one gallon of hot water" and then "dry with a clean cloth or paper towel that has not been previously used."

How can you prevent listeriosis?

One way to prevent listeriosis is by ditching any food that is known to have been potentially contaminated with listeria, such as the specific packages of pork involved in this most recent recall. Another way to prevent infection is to follow the safe cleaning tips for any surface the contaminated product might have touched.

Pregnant people are also encouraged to avoid the following foods because of the high risk of listeria contamination, ACOG says:

  • Hot dogs, lunch meats, cold cuts (when served chilled or at room temperature)
  • Refrigerated pâté and meat spreads
  • Refrigerated smoked seafood
  • Raw (unpasteurized) milk
  • Unpasteurized soft cheeses like feta, queso blanco, queso fresco, Brie, queso panela, Camembert, and blue-veined cheeses
  • Unwashed raw produce like fruits and vegetables (When pregnant people eat raw fruits and vegetables, it's best to wash them well in running tap water, even if they will be peeled or cut.)

If you are at risk for serious complications of listeriosis, the CDC also recommends that you avoid the following foods:

  • Raw sprouts
  • Hot dogs, lunch meats, cold cuts, other deli meats, or fermented or dry sausages unless they're heated to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Refrigerated pâté or meat spreads
  • Cold smoked fish
  • Raw milk and raw milk products

If you're not someone who needs to avoid certain foods, then just make sure to scrub raw vegetables and cook food thoroughly.

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