Listeria: How to Avoid Becoming Sick from This Bacteria
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
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
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:
- Muscle aches
- Diarrhea and/or vomiting
- Stiff neck
- Mental confusion
Pregnant women are at higher risk for getting 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
For More Information About Listeria or Listeriosis Visit:
- My Pregnancy and Listeria - by Kimberly Bennett
The gripping story of 2-week old Hannah and her meningitis diagnosis resulting from listeriosis.
- CDC - Listeriosis: General Information - NCZVED
A frequently asked questions page on Listeriosis, a serious infection caused by eating food contaminated with the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes.
- CDC - Listeria and Pregnancy, Infections - NCBDDD
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