This is part 2 of a multi-part feature series covering the food-borne illnesses responsible for most food recalls in the United States.
The bacterium listeria monocytogenes (L. monocytogenes) are responsible for the foodborne illness called listeriosis. This bacterial infection, unusually dangerous because it can survive and multiply in a wide range of temperatures, kills close to 500 people in the U.S. annually and injures around 2,500. The majority of serious cases tend to happen in infants, the elderly and others with weakened immune systems.
Where Listeria are Found
L. monocytogenes have been discovered in substances like sewage, water, dust and soil. They can be carried by humans and animals, including foul, fish, cattle, sheep and goats.
Most cases of listeriosis happen when people consume contaminated foods, such as unpasteurized milk, ice cream, uncooked vegetables, soft cheeses, raw meats and fish, and pre-cooked meat products. Raw meats may become infected either because the animal was a carrier, or because the product came into contact with the bacterium somewhere along the processing or packaging chain. Ready-to-eat deli meats and hot dogs may have touched infected surfaces after processing and prior to packaging. Vegetables that house L.monocytogenes were either fertilized with infected manure or were subjected to cross-contamination in the handling process.
Who is at Risk
Senior citizens, expectant mothers, newborns and persons with immune disorders, cancer, diabetes, or kidney disease are especially susceptible to listeriosis, but anyone may contract the illness. Pregnant women who host the bacterium, whether they become ill or not, may pass it on to their babies or risk complications during childbirth.
Symptoms and Diagnosis
Listeriosis presents with flu-like symptoms, such as muscle aches, nausea and fever. Once the nervous system is affected, victims may experience headaches, stiff neck, loss of balance and convulsions. Listeriosis is diagnosed using blood and spinal fluid tests, and is most often treated with antibiotics.
Tips for Preventing ListeriosisYou can easily avoid this foodborne illness by practicing proper food handling and thorough cooking. Here are a few suggestions to keep you and your family safe from listeriosis:
- Be sure to cook raw meat and fish completely.
- Use a vegetable wash before eating raw vegetables or preparing to cook them.
- Avoid cross-contamination by sterilizing food prep. surfaces, utensils & cookware before and after use.
- Avoid unpasteurized products unclean sources and milk sellers who don’t allow you to visit the dairy.
- Wash your hands after every step in the cooking or food preparation process.
- Do not let ready-to-eat foods sit at room temperature and avoid consuming them past the use-by date.
More Information on Listeria Poisoning
Listeriosis can cause severe health problems, but with the right knowledge, you can avoid the serious effects of this illness. Get all the details on listeriosis and how you can protect yourself by visiting the following links:
Recent recalls due to Listeria infection
Listeria and pregnancy
Centers for Disease Control FAQ page on Listeria
National Institutes of Health: Medline Plus Listeria page
U.S. Food and Drug Administration Listeria page
The Other Three Articles in this Series on Common Food Borne Illnesses: