Public health officials believe they have identified the source of the Florida-linked listeria outbreak that has sickened 23 people — one of whom died — this year.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced suspected ties to Big Olaf Creamery brand ice cream, which is sold only in Florida, and told those who have any in their freezer to throw the ice cream away.

Saturday, Big Olaf Creamery in Sarasota issued a statement on its Facebook page noting that the supposed link is still only a suspicion and that the investigation is ongoing. “For now it is only speculation as it is an ongoing investigation; our brand has not been confirmed to be linked to these cases,” the post said.

It continued, “I am not sure why only Big Olaf is being mentioned and targeted. The original report we got from the Florida Department of Health on Friday July 1st was that there are 23 cases reported, the first one reported was January 2021; 6 out of the 23 patients mentioned having consumed Big Olaf ice cream, but nothing has been proven.”

The post says the family-owned creamery has been cooperating with Florida and other health officials and added that the “health and well-being of the public is our first priority.”

The CDC said Big Olaf Creamery was voluntarily contacting retail locations to recommend against selling their ice cream products.

But ABC7 News in Sarasota reported that some of its viewers were skeptical of the supposed tie. And it said that when ABC 7 visited one of the five Big Olaf locations, the TV station found it open for business on July 4.

“Neither the representatives at the shop nor those we connected with online wanted to talk on camera for now to explain why stores were still selling ice cream despite the warning,” ABC7 News reported.

Seeking the source

As part of the investigation, health officials have interviewed people who got sick about what they ate in the month before they got sick. Of 17 interviewed, 14 reported eating ice cream. Among 13 of them who remembered details, 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 public health agency noted.

The Deseret News previously reported on findings that 20 sick people reported living in or traveling to Florida in the month before they got sick, which led investigators to believe some kind of food consumed in Florida was at the heart of the outbreak.

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The article said those sickened ranged from infancy to 92 years and that 22 had been hospitalized. The person who died was from Illinois and was reportedly an older adult.

“Listeria outbreaks over the years have been linked to a number of foods, including deli meats and hotdogs, dairy products and produce. Recent outbreaks have been traced to soft cheeses, celery, sprouts, cantaloupe and ice cream,” Deseret News reported.

According to The New York Times, “Big Olaf’s ice cream is made by Amish craftsmen at a creamery near Pinecraft, which is a Sarasota neighborhood.”

About listeria

Listeria monocytogenes is the bacteria that causes listeriosis, which is often called simply listeria. People are typically sickened by eating contaminated food. Most people don’t get sick from the bacteria, but certain categories of people are more likely to suffer greater impact, including pregnant women, newborns, older adults and those who are immune-compromised.

Pregnant women typically don’t become very ill, but listeria can lead to miscarriage. And both unborn and newborn babies can be very ill. Older adults and those who have immunocompromising conditions can develop blood or brain infections. Listeria can also impact bones, joints and organs in the chest and abdomen.

The most common symptoms are vomiting, diarrhea and fever, the CDC says.

One challenge in investigating an outbreak is the lag time: It can take weeks to develop symptoms after someone eats contaminated food. An estimated 1,600 people get listeria in the United States each year.

Correction: A previous version of this story included a photo that showed containers of Ben and Jerry’s and Talenti ice cream, neither of which has been linked to the listeria outbreak.