Listeria has been in many news headlines in the past year because of its connection with several food recalls; the most recent being a massive recall on frozen vegetables. It’s obvious that listeria is bad for us because of its connection to food recalls. But what is listeria? It is important to be informed about the content of news headlines that impact your health.
What is Listeria?
Also known as listeriosis, listeria is a foodborne illness that is caused by eating foods that are contaminated with the listeria monocytogenes bacterium. It most commonly affects pregnant women, infants, the elderly, and adults with compromised immune systems. Although, it is possible for healthy adults and children to be infected with listeria, it is uncommon for them to become as ill.
What causes Listeria?
The bacterium that causes listeriosis is found in soil and water. Vegetables can become infected through soil. Animals can also carry the bacteria and contaminate meat and dairy products. Processed foods, such as soft cheese and deli meats, can become contaminated after processing. Unpasteurized (raw) milk or foods made with unpasteurized milk can also become contaminated.
What are the symptoms of listeria and how is it treated?
Symptoms of listera may occur just a few days after consuming contaminated foods, but it can also take up to two months for the symptoms to present themselves. Symptoms may vary among those infected but the most common include: fever, muscle aches, nausea, diarrhea, and other gastrointestinal symptoms. If the infection spreads to the nervous system, symptoms like headache, stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance, or convulsions can also occur.
Listeria is most often treated using antibiotics. If a person who has consumed contaminated food, but doesn’t present with any symptoms experts recommend no treatment.
How to prevent Listeria?
You can prevent listeria by practicing the same safe food handling practices done to prevent other foodborne illnesses:
- Place raw food items in separate bags at the grocery store so that they are away from other food items to prevent cross-contamination.
- Properly store perishable foods as soon as possible after you purchase them.
- All raw meats and ready-to-eat foods should be cooked, refrigerated, or frozen within two hours.
- Your refrigerator should be kept at 40 degrees or colder to prevent foods from spoiling. Unlike most foodborne bacteria, listeria has the ability to grow in the cold temperature of the refrigerator, so be sure to clean up any spills in the refrigerator, especially juices from raw meats.
- Follow the labels on your food’s packaging to ensure you are storing and cooking them correctly.
- Always wash your hands before and after handling your foods.
- Wash your fresh fruits and vegetables thoroughly with water.
- Use separate cutting boards for your raw meats and vegetables when possible.
In order to protect yourself from foodborne illnesses, it is important to understand how to respond to food recalls, what symptoms to watch for, and how to prevent becoming ill. As health communicators, it is our responsibility to ensure the general public has this information at its fingertips and that our clients or audience is properly informed about the content of news headlines that impact their health.