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Tons of 'contaminated' meat pulled in Germany

Rebecca Staudenmaier (with AFP)May 30, 2016

Sausage and ham products from the south-German firm Sieber have been recalled due to a possible listeria contamination. The bacteria have been known to cause fever and may cause miscarriages in extreme cases.

An assortment of wurst on a plate
Image: Colourbox

Meat contaminated with the bacteria listeria produced by the southern German company Sieber was pulled from distribution, reported the German newspaper "Süddeutsche Zeitung" on Monday.

"Potentially, the ham and sausage products are contaminated with listeria and hazardous to heath," Germany's ministry of justice and consumer protection said in a press release late on Friday night.

The bacterium Listeria monocytogenes causes listeriosis, a disease which presents with flu-like symptoms but is especially dangerous for pregnant women, the elderly, and those with compromised immune systems.

The Robert-Koch Institute, the German government's scientific institution in biomedicine, linked the company's "Original Bavarian Wammerl" - a regional pork belly specialty - to a listeriosis outbreak in southern Germany.

The outbreak began in 2012 and has continued until today, read the ministry's statement.

After recently probing Sieber's current range of meat products, five positive cases of listeria were uncovered in different sausage products.

"In some individual cases, listeria was found in our company's ham and sausage products," confirmed the firm on its homepage, saying its products had been removed.

Not only supermarkets have had the meat pulled. On their website, the firm says its meat is also served at the Munich's international airport as well as Munich's Olympic park.

A man cuts Wammerl into strips
Tainted 'Wammerl' was linked to a listeriosis outbreak dating back to 2012Image: picture-alliance/dpa/U. Anspach

Hundreds of products recalled

The ministry said although the listeria bacteria had not been found in all Sieber's products, the recall had been issued as a precautionary measure.

As a result, the company pulled all of its 206 products from distribution, including the company's line of vegetarian "imitation" meats. Sieber, known for its popular canned sausages, is one of the largest packaged meat distributors for supermarkets.

They asked consumers to avoid eating products subject to the recall. It is estimated that the company will have to dispose of some 100 tons of meat.

Bacterium Listeria monocytogenes
Listeriosis can be especially dangerous for pregnant women, leading to birth defects or miscarriageImage: picture-alliance/OKAPIA KG, Germany

Listeria - rare but dangerous

Although listeriosis is almost always caused by eating contaminated food, it can be very difficult to trace exactly which food caused the outbreak.

The bacteria can survive for a long time at low temperatures - even in refrigerators or freezers. When the bacteria gets into a food processing factory, it can sometimes remain for years, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Those who contract listeriosis usually suffer from fever, muscle aches, a stiff neck, diarrhea and vomiting. For elderly people and those with compromised immune systems, it often presents as meningitis.

Pregnant women should be careful, since listeriosis can lead to miscarriage or premature birth. Additionally, newborns can suffer from early-onset listeriosis, which can cause diseases of internal organs, skin diseases, respiratory problems and spasms.