Italian controls prompted by Listeria outbreak find major issues; 900 sick, 3 dead

Italian authorities have seized 14 tons of food and stopped operations at 23 companies as part of food safety checks triggered by a large Listeria outbreak.

The operation, in cooperation with the Ministry of Health (Ministero della Salute), follows an investigation into a Listeria outbreak that has affected 90 people and killed three linked to sausages made with poultry meat by Agricola Tre Valli.

The Carabinieri NAS carried out the campaign throughout the country to verify companies producing food of animal origin were following safety and hygiene rules.

The 14 tons of seized food had a commercial value of €327,000 ($319,000) and operations at 23 firms were suspended or shut down.

Serious issues uncovered by inspectors
Almost 1,100 food companies with the highest risk for Listeria, such as those who handle meat, sausages, dairy products, and delis selling sandwiches, were visited.

Carabinieri NAS officers found issues in 335 outlets, almost a third of the total. Nearly 550 criminal and administrative violations were recorded.

Among the problems found were the use of raw materials that had expired or were in a poor condition, failure to apply preventive self-control procedures, and ensuring food traceability.

Officials in Palermo found a sample of fresh cheese containing high values of Listeria. A total of 945 kilograms of dairy products were blocked and the firm was suspended until corrective actions were taken.

Officers also uncovered irregularities with results from two private laboratories. False reports were created certifying analytical and microbiological parameters that were not correct as they were based on testing that was never actually performed.

In a separate inquiry in October, the Carabinieri in Cremona arrested two people and searched 10 companies and offices in the food sector and a farm. An investigation found a conflict of interest had occurred and non-conformities in some companies had been found but without enforcement. The most serious cases included Listeria being found in meat products processed by a slaughterhouse in the Cremasco area, and fraud in dairy products due to modification of labels and expiry dates. 

Local action examples
In the latest action in the province of Modena, 7,000 kilograms of meat including semi-finished products and slices of pork and beef were confiscated. Inspectors found the refrigeration system was not working properly plus hygienic and sanitary deficiencies due to mold on the walls of the site for unloading goods.

In Bari, 1,800 kilograms of meat products were seized due to a lack of labeling and information to ensure traceability.

In Salerno and Catania, 3,700 kilograms of dairy products, about to be marketed, were taken from two dairies as they lacked traceability documentation.

In Ragusa, a meat factory was closed due to poor hygiene conditions and the failure of operators to implement self-control procedures in the legislation. More than 500 kilograms of already packaged cured meats were seized.

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