What is Listeria? Deadly Outbreak From Processed Meat Expected To Get Worse

Shireen Louw carries her son who was one of the nine children infected with Listeriosis at the Childrens Orientation Centre in Klipspruit West, in Soweto, on March 13, 2017. Louw says that they no longer eat polony and are educating their children about better hygiene. The children, all under the age of five years from the Centre were admitted to Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital, on January 12, with febrile gastro-enteritis which was later found to be caused by the food-borne disease Listeriosis. Environmental health practitioners (EHPs) found that samples from the stool of one of the affected children as well as from processed meat at the creche (manufactured by Enterprise and Rainbow Chicken Limited (RCL) respectively) contained the Listeria bacteria. The South Africa listeria outbreak that has killed 180 people since January is the largest ever recorded globally, the World Health Organisation. Gulshan Khan/AFP/Getty Images

A listeria outbreak that has already claimed the lives of 180 people in South Africa shows no signs of slowing down.

"We are just at the beginning and we must expect other cases to emerge," Aaron Motsoaledi, South Africa's Health Minister, said during a press conference, Reuters reports.

Related: Salmonella Outbreak: Illnesses at Jimmy John's Across States Spark Nationwide Menu Changes

The bacteria Listeria monocytogenes causes the deadly infection known as listeriosis. People typically get infected after eating contaminated food—cheese or cantaloupe are often involved in U.S. outbreaks. In this particular situation, a cheap packaged meat product called "polony" is thought to be the culprit.

Although the outbreak has been going on since January 2017, the sausage product was only recently linked to the cases. The products in question have since been recalled, but a wider cautionary measure was announced by Motsoaledi.

#EnterpriseRecall Consumers are reminded to return their products to the place of purchase for a full refund, irrespective of whether they have a till slip, the product has already been opened or partially consumed.

— Tiger Brands (@TigerBrands) March 14, 2018

"We advise members of the public to avoid all processed meat products that are sold as ready-to-eat. While we know that polony is definitely implicated, there is a risk of cross-contamination," he said in a statement. "This is because Listeria on the exterior casing (packaging) of polony can be transferred to other products it comes into contact with, including viennas, russians, frankfurters, other sausages, and other 'cold meat' products that are typically not cooked before eating."

Related: Cruise Lines With the Most Virus Outbreaks in 2017

Those who are most at risk include pregnant women, adults aged 65 and older, and those with compromised immune systems, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In order to prevent infection—specifically from lunch meats—the CDC recommends storing sealed, unopened packages in the refrigerator for no longer than two weeks. But if the meat was bought sliced at a deli, it should be refrigerated and consumed within 5 days.

And if you fall into one of the aforementioned high-risk groups, you should avoid hot dogs and lunch meats unless they've been heated to 165 degrees Fahrenheit or until steaming hot before consuming.