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How to Prevent Food Poisoning from Listeria

Updated on July 28, 2011
Food Poisioning
Food Poisioning | Source

An Ounce of Prevention...

Learning how to prevent food poisoning from listeria is important to protect at risk populations, especially pregnant women. Listeria infection, or listeriosis, is caused by eating contaminated food that can cause serious illness and even death. Its prevention requires knowledge of its causes and safe food handling practices.

Learn What the Causes of Listeria Food Poisoning Are

Listeria infection (or listeriosis) is caused by consuming food that is contaminated with the bacterium listeria monocytogenes, found in both soil and water. Vegetables can be contaminated by soil (manure present) and animals can be infected without falling ill, so meat and dairy products can be tainted. Thus people who consume dairy and meat products are at risk of listeria infection.

Know Who is at Greatest Risk from Listeria

Certain populations are at high risk of serious illness from listeria infection. These include:

  • Pregnant women (potential miscarriage, stillbirth, premature delivery, or infection of the baby)
  • Newborns
  • Persons 60 and older
  • People with weakened immune systems
  • People with chronic illnesses such as diabetes, cancer, or kidney disease

Healthy adults and children rarely become seriously ill from Listeria.

Learn the Symptoms of Listeria Food Poisoning

Key symptoms of listeria infection are:

  • Fever
  • Muscle aches
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea

If the infection spreads to the nervous system additional symptoms can arise, such as:

  • Headache
  • Stiff neck
  • Confusion
  • Loss of balance
  • Convulsions

Some pregnant women who get infected experience only a mild, flu-like illness, but could still suffer terrible consequences.

Reduce the Risk of Listeria Infection

There are three general strategies for avoiding listeria infection. These are shown below.

(1) Throw Food Away If It is Beyond the “Use By” Date: Food that is beyond its “use by” date may look good and smell OK and still be unsafe. Don’t risk consuming it; toss it out.

(2) Keep Your Refrigerator Cold: Refrigerator temperature should be between 32° F and 40°F. Don’t try to save money by keeping the temperature higher than 40°.

(3) Handle and Store Food Properly:

  • Wash raw vegetables before eating them
  • Thoroughly cook food from animal sources
  • Keep uncooked meats away from other foods
  • Wash hands, cutlery, and cutting boards after handling uncooked foods.

Avoid Certain Foods If You Are at Risk

There are several recommendations specifically for people who are at high risk from listeria infection:

  • Avoid eating hot dogs, luncheon or deli meats unless reheated to a steaming hot temperature.
  • Avoid getting the fluid from packages of hot dogs on other foods, food surfaces, and utensils, and wash hands thoroughly after handling hot dogs, luncheon or deli meats.
  • Avoid eating soft cheeses unless the package says they are made from pasteurized milk.
  • Avoid eating refrigerated pates or meat spreads.
  • Avoid eating refrigerated, smoked seafood.

Educate Others About Food Poisoning and Safe Handling of Food

Listeria infection can be fatal. About 2,500 people fall seriously ill from this form of food poisoning in the U.S. each year and 20% of them die from it. So spread the word about listeria and the ways to avoid infection. See the resource below for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) information on listeriosis.


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    • Rob McKelvie profile image

      Rob McKelvie 6 years ago from USA and UK

      Thanks for adding value to this Hub, Silva!

    • Silva Hayes profile image

      Silva Hayes 6 years ago from Spicewood, Texas

      Good advice. Two things I do to help prevent us from eating contaminated food, in addition to what you mention, 1) remove the stems from spinach, and 2) always wash all greens even though the packaging clearly states that they have already been washed.

      If one takes the salad greens that supposedly have been pre-washed, and spread them out on a platter, one will be disgusted at what the container holds that was supposed to just be thrown into your salad bowl. I have found a live beetle, unidentified leaves that do not belong, and dark green slimy leaves that must be discarded.

      Voted Up and useful.