This has been the month of recalls, many for possible Listeria contamination which we seem to be seeing more and more of.
Listeria species can grow at room and refrigerator temperatures. Many types of food items can also contain Listeria bacteria and the latest appears to be deli cheeses. People at high risk for listeriosis (elderly, pregnant women, people with suppressed immune systems, and infants) and those who prepare meals can take steps to lower risk. Healthy adults experience few symptoms and the illness does not appear to be transmissible from person to person.
- Rinse raw produce, such as fruits and vegetables thoroughly under running tap water before eating. Dry the produce with a clean cloth or paper towel before cutting them.
- Heat hot dogs, deli meats and cold cuts until they are steaming hot just before serving.
- Do not drink raw milk (unpasteurized) milk, and do not eat fresh soft cheeses that have unpasteurized milk in them, especially Mexican soft cheeses like queso fresco. Organic and non-organic products both can be contaminated.
- Consumers and food preparers should wash their hands before and after handling any food.
What is Listeriosis?
Listeriosis is caused by species of Listeria bacteria called monocytogenes and it is estimated that there are 2500 cases in the U.S. every year. Twenty percent of these cases result in death. The incubation period can be prolonged, anywhere from 2 to 6 weeks. In these cases, the illness can cause symptoms of fever, malaise, arthritis, and jaundice. It can occur as meningoencephalitis with headaches, stiff neck and coma. Or another form is septicemia, a blood disease with high numbers of infected white blood cells called monocytes, thus its name. There is a third form that infects the uterus with vague flu-like symptoms and if contracted during pregnancy may result in miscarriage or mental damage to the newborn.
A notable outbreak of listeriosis occurred in late 1998 and early 1999. Close to 100 illnesses were reported in 22 states that were all linked to hot dogs and deli meats. Fourteen adults died during this outbreak, and six pregnancies resulted in miscarriages.