Over the past 12 months, there have been several recalls of ice cream products in the USA due to listeria contamination. Listeria is a potential hazard in ice cream production, and Listeria contamination can have severe consequences for public health and dairy companies.

A well-managed and efficient food safety program is crucial in minimising the risk of Listeria. Reviewing learnings from overseas incidents may add value to how you apply and manage your food safety program.

Below are the details of three product recalls in the USA, two of which resulted in hospitalisations, and one that caused a fatality.

Case #1, Sarasota, Florida: Multistate outbreak of Listeria monocytogenes linked to ice cream, 2 November 2022. Incident fast facts:

  • Recall due to genetic tests showing that the outbreak strain of Listeria was found in ice cream samples and at the plant where the ice cream was made, erasing any doubt that the manufacturer wasn’t responsible for these devastating outcomes. The illnesses occurred over 20 months.
  • 28 illnesses reported. The actual number of sick people in this outbreak is likely higher than the number reported, and this outbreak may not have been limited to the states with known illnesses.
  • 27 hospitalisations reported
  • 1 death reported
  • 11 States involved
  • Products recalled included a variety of ice cream products
  • 16 flavours tested positive for Listeria
  • Key locations where Listeria was found in the plant: 2 conveyor cross beams between machines; 2 floor drains; a squeegee in a sink; a metal floor support between machines; inside two pipes that transfer premix to the ice cream machine; and a transfer pump outlet on a pasteurized ice cream cooler.

Case #2, Brooklyn, New York: Multistate outbreak of L. monocytogenes linked to ice cream, 26 October 2023. Incident fast facts:

  • Recall due to possible L. monocytogenes contamination.
  • 2 illnesses reported
  • 2 hospitalisations reported
  • 0 deaths reported
  • 2 States involved
  • Products recalled included multiple varieties of dairy and non-dairy ice cream and frozen dessert products.

Case #3, East Arlington, Vermont: Recall of ice cream products due to possible L. monocytogenes contamination, 20 November 2023. Incident fast facts:

  • Recall due to possible L. monocytogenes contamination, identified during routine government sampling.
  • 0 illnesses reported
  • 0 hospitalisations reported
  • 0 deaths reported
  • 4 States involved
  • Products recalled included multiple flavour varieties of ice cream, yogurt, ice cream bars, and gelato, as well as all other products.

What’s known

There have been no reported incidents of L. monocytogenes in ice cream causing food poisoning in Australia.

The FSANZ website records no recalls of Listeria-contaminated ice cream in Australia from January 1999 to January 2024.

In the USA in 2015, there was an outbreak of Listeriosis from ice cream in which three of the five victims died. Investigations showed that persistent Listeria biofilms in ice cream machinery was the cause, with the contamination so severe that the biofilm in one machine could not be eradicated and the machine was decommissioned.

About Listeria

  • L. monocytogenes is a type of bacteria that can contaminate food without any visible signs or smell of spoilage.
  • Unlike other bacteria, Listeria thrives in cold temperatures and in areas where moisture collects. 
  • This bacterium can cause serious and potentially life-threatening infections in people who consume contaminated food.
  • Symptoms may not appear for up to 70 days after exposure and can include vomiting, nausea, fever, muscle aches, headache, and neck stiffness.

Dairysafe requires immediate notification of any Listeria species found in food or the environment, as well as other pathogens found in dairy products. In such cases, contact Dairysafe immediately for assistance and advice on the next steps.

You can also refer to the Dairysafe pathogen management flowchart, which guides a company’s response arrangements.

There are many resources and reference materials available to guide you in this process. Check out the Dairysafe website for more information on managing Listeria in dairy manufacture.