Federal and state health investigators have connected a listeria outbreak in Florida at least in part to a Sarasota ice cream business.
On Saturday evening, the Centers for Disease Control said that Big Olaf Creamery was voluntarily contacting retail locations that use its ice cream to “recommend against selling their ice cream products.”
“Consumers who have Big Olaf Creamery brand ice cream at home should throw away any remaining product,” the CDC said on its website.
The CDC said that the Florida Department of Health, CDC, public health and regulatory officials in several other states and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are collecting different types of data to investigate a multistate outbreak of listeria monocytogenes infections.
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Listeria can cause severe illness (known as invasive listeriosis) when the bacteria spread beyond the gut to other parts of the body, the CDC said.
Symptoms of severe illness usually start within two weeks after eating food contaminated with listeria, but may start as early as the same day or as late as 70 days after.
Listeria can also cause common food poisoning symptoms, like diarrhea and fever. People who experience these symptoms usually recover without treatment.
Public health officials continue to interview people about the foods they ate in the month before they got sick, the CDC reported. Of the 17 people interviewed, 14 (82%) reported eating ice cream. Among 13 people who remembered details about the type of ice cream they ate, six reported eating Big Olaf Creamery brand ice cream or eating ice cream at locations that might have been supplied by Big Olaf Creamery, the CDC said.
“Products identified in this alert are part of an ongoing investigation,” the CDC said.
The CDC said Big Olaf Creamery began its recall on Friday.
Dr. Washington Hill, a maternal-fetal medicine specialist at Sarasota Memorial Hospital, recommended those that are showing symptoms to reach out to their doctor.
"Who cares? We care because in pregnant and older people and those that are immunocompromised it can cause serious disease," Hill said of listeria.
Most pregnant women show no symptoms of listeria, but Hill said that the concern lies with the fetus. He said listeria in pregnant women can cause miscarriage still birth, pre-term labor and death of the fetus.
Rosie Peachey, a representative of Big Olaf Creamery who responded by email with a statement to questions, contended that, in contrast to the CDC warnings, nothing has been proven, and that the company is cooperating with the FDA.
“For now it is only speculation as it is an ongoing investigation,” Peachey said. “Our brand has not been confirmed to be linked to these cases. I am not sure why only Big Olaf is being mentioned and targeted.”
Big Olaf Creamery’s website calls its ice cream “A Florida Tradition Since 1982,” saying it “has been family owned and operated for 25 Years.”
“All of our ice cream is handmade in batch freezers just like the good old days!” the website says. “Creamery direct delivery to most of Florida. Our primary focus is to serve ice cream parlors, senior homes, restaurants, fairs, and supermarkets with a full range of premium frozen products.
“The ice cream is made at a local creamery near Sarasota’s Amish village of Pinecraft. Every tub of Big Olaf Ice Cream is hand mixed with the finest ingredients and is then churned in batch freezers by local Amish Craftsmen. The smooth, creamery consistency comes from two sources: attention to detail, and fresh, high butter fat (14%) milk.”
The site calls it “Your wholesale source for premium, handmade ice cream.”
A Big Olaf franchise on Tamiami Trail in Sarasota remained open Sunday, despite warnings from the CDC.
A customer, Paula Russell, who lives in Sarasota, said she didn’t know about the outbreak and didn’t care.
“We come here three times a week,” Russell said. “We went to the one on Beneva, but it was too far so we started going to this one.”
But Big Olaf Siesta Key sent a statement Sunday evening stating that the business had "voluntarily and temporarily closed, as we have chose to take aproactive stance regarding the potential issue with one of our distributors."
Signed "Management of Big Olaf Siesta Key, the statement went on to say: "We are conducting a thorough disinfecting process throughout the store, have discarded all product from the distributor in question and will have a new vendor upon our opening in a few days.
"We greatly appreciate your understanding and as always we strive to maintain as the number one priority the safety of our customers and employees."
On its website, the CDC provided the following advice about the outbreak:
What everyone should do
Consumers who have Big Olaf Creamery brand ice cream at home should throw away any remaining product. Big Olaf Creamery brand ice cream is only sold in Florida.
Clean any areas, containers, and serving utensils that may have touched Big Olaf ice cream products.
What businesses should do
Do not serve or sell any Big Olaf ice cream products.
Clean and disinfect any areas and equipment that may have touched Big Olaf ice cream products, including ice cream scoops and other serving utensils.
What people at higher risk should do
Listeria is most likely to sicken pregnant people and their newborns, adults aged 65 or older, and people with weakened immune systems. Other people can be infected with listeria, but they rarely become seriously ill.
Call your health care provider right away if you have any of these listeria symptoms: Pregnant people typically experience only fever, fatigue, and muscle aches. However, listeria infections during pregnancy can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, premature delivery, or life-threatening infection of the newborn.
People who are not pregnant may experience headache, stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance, and convulsions, in addition to fever and muscle aches.
About the illness
On Thursday, the Associated Press reported that one death and nearly two dozen hospitalizations were tied to a new listeria outbreak that was then of unknown origin.
CDC officials said at the time nearly all the 23 people known to have been infected in the outbreak either live in Florida or traveled to the state about a month before they got sick.
Listeria is one of the most dangerous forms of food poisoning, and 22 of the infected people were hospitalized. One person from Illinois died and one pregnant woman lost her fetus, the CDC said.
Listeria symptoms usually start one to four weeks after eating contaminated food, but can start as soon as the same day.
The first cases occurred in January of this year, but have continued through June, when two of the people got sick, CDC officials said.
This report includes material from the Associated Press.
This article originally appeared on Sarasota Herald-Tribune: CDC investigates Big Olaf ice cream in connection to Listeria outbreak