Do you know the dangers of listeria?

Do you know the dangers of listeria?

Recent news headlines have brought the massive recall of ice cream and hummus into the spotlight and made consumers more aware of the harmful bacteria listeria.

Listeria monocytogenes is an organism that can grow in foods, particularly fruit, dairy products and ready-to-eat meats, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It usually grows in food that has not been properly refrigerated or has been kept around too long.  If consumed, the bacteria can cause an infection with effects ranging from fever and nausea to, in extreme cases, meningitis, blood poisoning, miscarriages or even death.

“Listeria is a lesser-known foodborne bacteria that holds particular risks for certain groups, including older adults, pregnant women, newborns and adults with weakened immune systems,” says Pam Bierbaum, infection preventionist at Advocate BroMenn Medical Center in Normal, Ill.

Listeria outbreaks are serious, but relatively rare.

Listeria causes approximately 1,600 illnesses and 260 U.S. deaths per year, according to the CDC. Previous outbreaks have involved such food items as caramel apples, soft cheese and cantaloupe.

While the larger outbreaks have originated at food-processing factories or farms, listeria can develop in a person’s kitchen.

“The recent recalls and associated illnesses have reminded us of the need to always follow safe food handling and storage guidelines,” says Bierbaum.  “These basic practices are protective for a number of illnesses and therefore should be part of everyone’s routine.”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends the following tips to reduce the risk of a listeria contamination:

  • Thoroughly wash all fruits and vegetables under running water, even if you intend to peel them. Use a clean produce brush for firm produce like melons.
  • Avoid unpasteurized or “raw” dairy products, especially if you fall into the higher-risk category for listeria infection.
  • Keep refrigerated foods at a temperature of 40 degrees or lower, and frozen foods at 0 degrees or lower.
  • Use ready-to-eat foods and leftovers as soon as you can.
  • Clean the inside of the refrigerator regularly with warm water and liquid soap. Clean up spills immediately – other foods can be contaminated by listeria through spills or leaks from infected products.
  • Clean kitchen surfaces often. Food preparation areas and cutting boards should be washed with warm soapy water and sanitized with a kitchen sanitizer product.
  • Wash your hands with soap and warm water at least 20-seconds before and after handling food.
  • Wash dish towels and cloth shopping bags in hot water frequently.

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health enews Staff
health enews Staff

health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Aurora Health sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.