Listeria: How to Avoid Becoming Sick from This Bacteria

Listeria outbreak

A listeria outbreak can occur from time-to-time in the U.S. and capture the headlines. The latest listeria outbreak in the U.S., linked to contaminated cantaloupe produced by Jensen Farms in Colorado, has prompted them to recall this fruit distributed in eleven states.

As of September 28, 2011 there have been thirteen reported deaths and seventy-two illnesses spread over multiple states. This is the nineteenth listeria outbreak involving this melon since 1984. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that 1,700 people in the U.S. will get the serious illness, listeriosis, each year and 260 of them will die.

Understanding what the listeria bacteria is, the source of listeria, as well as people groups that are susceptible to contracting listeriosis, is important in helping to prevent contracting this serious and sometimes deadly illness.


Cantaloupe can carry listeria

It's important to clean melons since listeria can be transferred from the rind to the fruit when it is sliced with a knife.
It's important to clean melons since listeria can be transferred from the rind to the fruit when it is sliced with a knife. | Source

Listeria and listeriosis defined

Simply put, listeria is a bacteria -- specifically it is the listeria monocytogenes bacteria. The listeria bacteria are found in soil and water. When someone ingests the listeria bacteria they may become ill with listeriosis, a rare but very serious illness. Additionally, 10% of meningitis patients each year in the U.S. are the result of the listeria monocytogenes bacteria.


The bacteria listeria can be found on raw fruits and vegetables

Source
Be sure to clean raw fruits and vegetables thoroughly as a way of reducing the risk of getting listeriosis.
Be sure to clean raw fruits and vegetables thoroughly as a way of reducing the risk of getting listeriosis. | Source

Sources of listeria and listeriosis

Listeriosis occurs by eating food contaminated with the listeria bacteria and is, therefore, considered a food-borne illness. Since the listeria bacteria is found in soil and water, raw foods are a likely source of the bacteria. In addition, unpasteurized foods can contain listeria monocytogenes bacteria and deli meats can become contaminated after cooking but before packaging.


Foods that can be sources of listeria include:

  • Raw fruit and vegetables
  • Raw foods
  • Soft cheeses
  • Meat spreads
  • Undercooked hot dogs and deli meat
  • Smoked fish
  • Foods from unpasteurized milk


Symptoms of listeria

The symptoms of listeriosis may often be confused with other illnesses. But if there has been a listeria outbreak or you are in a high risk group for contracting listeriosis, consider that listeria bacteria could be the cause of your illness. Listeriosis can occur anywhere from 2 to 30 days after exposure to the bacteria.


Symptoms of listeriosis Include:

  • Fever
  • Muscle aches
  • Diarrhea and/or vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Stiff neck
  • Mental confusion


Pregnant women are at higher risk for getting listeriosis

Certain people, including the elderly, infants, pregnant women, and those with weakened immune systems are at greater risk for listeriosis.
Certain people, including the elderly, infants, pregnant women, and those with weakened immune systems are at greater risk for listeriosis.

High risk groups for getting listeriosis

Like many illnesses, there are vulnerable members of the population who are at higher risk for becoming ill and perhaps dying from listeriosis.


Higher risk groups include:

  • People over the age of 60: The 3 deaths in New Mexico in 2011 are all people over age 60.
  • Women who are pregnant: The CDC states that pregnant women are more than 20 times as likely to become ill with listeriosis than the non-pregnant people. And miscarriage, premature birth, stillbirth and infant death can result.
  • Unborn and Newborn Babies: A little more than one fifth of cases of listeriosis during pregnancy, 22% to be exact, end in stillbirth or death after birth.
  • People with weak immune systems: The weakened immune system can be from disease or the result of a transplant.


Reducing the risk of becoming ill with listeriosis

Since the serious illness listeriosis has the listeria monocytogenes bacteria as its source, it is important to rid all foods of this bacteria and all other sources (i.e. cutting boards, counter tops, utensils) that may have contracted the listeria bacteria through cross contamination, as well. Listeria is killed by cooking and pasteurization, if necessary.


Steps to Take to Reduce the Risk of Listeriosis Include:

  • Avoid food products made from unpasteurized milk
  • Wash all fruits and vegetable
  • Make sure your hands and work surface are clean
  • Prevent cross contamination - make sure refrigerators and containers etc. are clean
  • Make sure your refrigerator is set to 40 degrees or lower
  • When cooking foods, make sure they are cooked at the proper temperature
  • When reheating foods, be sure to reheat to 160 degrees
  • After preparing a meal or eating be sure to refrigerate or freeze food quickly


Do you want to write about what you know or what interests you?

Join HubPages now. It's fee, simple to use & you can publish within minutes.

More by this Author


Comments 22 comments

mvillecat profile image

mvillecat 5 years ago from Milledgeville, Georgia

My husband and I both have had near death experiences from food poison. It is real and very dangerous. Thanks for the Hub, I voted up!


ktrapp profile image

ktrapp 5 years ago from Illinois Author

Thank you mvillecat. Just out of curiosity, did you both have the near-death food poisoning experiences at the same time? That is very scary. I especially feel for those right now who may have contracted listeria from cantaloupe. I don't think people actually realize how real and dangerous food poisoning can be as you point out.


mvillecat profile image

mvillecat 5 years ago from Milledgeville, Georgia

No, mine was at the age of five and his was around 27. I was put into the hospital for a week, went blind and could not walk. I recovered, thank goodness. He also went blind for a few hours and could not walk very well but recovered in a day or so. We were both very lucky. Both were from meat sources.


ktrapp profile image

ktrapp 5 years ago from Illinois Author

Wow - I wasn't aware that food poisoning could affect vision and mobility. This seems like a hub topic you would be well qualified to write about.


kashmir56 profile image

kashmir56 5 years ago from Massachusetts

Thanks for sharing all this good and important information it will help anyone who has been sick to know if they have this nasty bacteria .

Vote up !!!


ktrapp profile image

ktrapp 5 years ago from Illinois Author

Thank you kashmir56. Listeria and listeriosis are definitely nasty. I hope most pregnant women who can be more vulnerable to getting listeriosis are aware of this, as well as people in the other at-risk groups.


mh-me 5 years ago

I know that I ate some of the canteloupe from Jensen Farms, because the supermarket where I bought it called. They had tracked me down because I used my store card to make the purchase. I did rinse off the canteloupe before cutting it. Is there anything I can do now that I have already eaten it? It's been almost 2 weeks since I ate it.


ktrapp profile image

ktrapp 5 years ago from Illinois Author

mh-me, Thank you for your question. I am not a medical professional so I really cannot give medical advice, but I would suggest giving your doctor's office a quick call.

Do you fall into any of the higher risk groups for listeriosis, such as over the age of 60, or pregnant, or have a weakened immune system? If so, be sure to tell your doctor that's why you are concerned.


debbie roberts profile image

debbie roberts 4 years ago from Greece

I did always wash our fruit and vegetables, I spray them with vinegar leave them then rinse them.....Recently when I've been short for time I've bought those bags of ready washed(?) salad and I've not washed them. At the time I was thinking to myself I should wash them, but it was so easy not to!! After reading your hub, I think I'll be washing them too as I'm sure they must be a haven for bacteria.

An informative hub and thank you for sharing.


ktrapp profile image

ktrapp 4 years ago from Illinois Author

Debbie Roberts - Since Listeria (listeriosis) can potentially be deadly it is important to wash everything. But I certainly know what you mean about it being easy not to. It's even important to wash knives as they are being used to cut melons. Thanks for your comment.


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 4 years ago from Houston, Texas

Important topic for people to know. People should always be sure and take precautions when it comes to the preparation and eating of foods. Cleanliness is the best defense when it comes to contracting many different diseases including this one of listeria. Up votes and will share.


Mardi profile image

Mardi 4 years ago from Western Canada and Texas

Thanks for this info. I know it is important to wash foods before eating but like Debbie I do not wash the pre-washed salad mixes. Guess I will start, only takes a second!


RTalloni profile image

RTalloni 4 years ago from the short journey

So glad to see this post so people can learn more about listeria. It is appalling to see people feed children unwashed fruits and vegetables, see the carelessness regarding kitchen surfaces/transference of bacteria from containers and utensils, not to mention the lack of hand washing, but the-what's-the-big-deal attitude seems to be ever more prevalent in our day of more education and information. Something that seems small, like washing a knife after using it on any food including fruits and vegetables can have serious consequences.

Food poisoning may not kill you, but it can surely make you wish you were dead, I promise, and it can leave a person with life-long disorders. Your warnings for the young, the pregnant, and the elderly are important. Good job!


ktrapp profile image

ktrapp 4 years ago from Illinois Author

Thanks for your thoughtful comment Peggy W. It is especially true to take precautions to avoid contaminated foods to avoid illnesses like listeriosis for infants and young children, pregnant women, and the elderly.


ktrapp profile image

ktrapp 4 years ago from Illinois Author

Mardi - I wish I knew more about the actual cleanliness of the pre-mixed salads. I know in the past when there have been possible issues with spinach that recommendations were to wash all of it, even the supposedly pre-washed packages. You and Debbie raise a good point to ponder, but better to err on the side of caution.


ktrapp profile image

ktrapp 4 years ago from Illinois Author

RTalloni - I detect that you have suffered from food poisoning in the past. I appreciate your impassioned comment, and fully understand what you mean by the what's-the-big-deal attitude. I bet the families of those that died from the last listeria outbreak last summer think it's a big deal. Washing knifes and fruits and vegetables is a simple thing to do and certainly worth the effort to avoid illness.


livelonger profile image

livelonger 4 years ago from San Francisco

Thank you for the helpful information. I bought some brussels sprouts from an outdoor market about a week ago, and was a little worried. I just roasted them well in the oven, though, so I should be safe.


ktrapp profile image

ktrapp 4 years ago from Illinois Author

livelonger - How lucky you are to be able to buy vegetables at an outdoor market in February! Roasting vegetables, as you did, should certainly be hot enough to kill any possible bacteria, such as listeria - better to always be on the safe side.


Felina Margetty profile image

Felina Margetty 4 years ago from New York, New York

Nice hub, well informed and voted up Cheers F.


ktrapp profile image

ktrapp 4 years ago from Illinois Author

Felina - Thanks so much. Listeria is certainly worth being informed about!


greencha profile image

greencha 3 years ago from UK

Thanks,interesting and very important


ktrapp profile image

ktrapp 3 years ago from Illinois Author

Thanks greencha. It is important, but I think sometimes we forget and get a little lazy washing all our fruits and vegetables.

    Sign in or sign up and post using a HubPages Network account.

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No HTML is allowed in comments, but URLs will be hyperlinked. Comments are not for promoting your articles or other sites.


    Click to Rate This Article
    working