Molly Rosbach of the Yakima Herald stepped into the tragedy that often is Listeria this morning with two stories: Listeria monocytogenes is one nasty bug and Listeria recall: How a web of oversight still couldn’t prevent an outbreak.  I had a couple of things to say:

Based on his experience with companies of all sizes, Bill Marler, a prominent Seattle attorney who has handled foodborne illness cases for more than two decades, said he wouldn’t call Queseria Bendita a bad actor, as listeria is so difficult to control.

But, “Companies that produce food have a moral and legal responsibility to produce food that doesn’t sicken and kill its customers,” he said. “So they’re responsible for what they sell.”

While food manufacturers try to keep E. coli or salmonella bacteria at bay by maintaining cool temperatures, those conditions don’t discourage listeria.

“Once it gets into a facility, it’s really hard to get rid of,” said Bill Marler, a Seattle attorney who has specialized in food safety cases for 20 years. “The problem with listeria is it grows really well in refrigerator temperatures.”

That means the bacteria could have been lurking around Queseria Bendita of Yakima since the 2010 outbreak, Marler said. He remembers the Michigan-based Bil Mar hot dog listeria outbreak, linked to several deaths in 1999, and “to get rid of the listeria, they had to dismantle the entire inside of the plant,” he said.

Listeria bacteria are present in the soil, so people can get listeriosis from almost anywhere. What counts as an outbreak is when multiple patients are sickened by strains that can be matched genetically to strains found in a particular food or manufacturer.