Several large Listeria recalls have been in the news lately, so while I know it is a foodborne illness, I’m guessing many of you have the same question. What is Listeria and how do I protect my family?
Listeria is the name of a hardy bacteria found in soil and water and some animals, including poultry and cattle. It can be present in raw milk and foods made from raw milk such as soft cheeses like queso fresco, Feta, Brie, or Camembert. It can also be found in some food processing plants where it may be difficult to destroy, and in processed meats or refrigerated meat spreads. At times it has also been found in produce such as cantaloupe and bean sprouts.
What are the symptoms of a Listeria illness? Symptoms of Listeria are like many other foodborne illness: fever, vomiting, diarrhea, weakness, and even stiff neck and confusion. While a healthy adult may be exposed and not even realize it, Listeria can hit the following groups hard: pregnant women, older adults, and those who are immunocompromised like patients with cancer, HIV/AIDS, those with liver disease, or even diabetes.
Listeria is different from many other foodborne illnesses because it can even grow in the cold temperature of the refrigerator, so to prevent it follow these guidelines:
- Do not eat unpasteurized milk or milk products like soft cheeses (unless they say made with pasteurized milk).
- Thoroughly rinse raw produce, even melons, before cutting or eating. Scrub foods like melons with a produce brush before cutting.
- Wash and sanitize food preparation surfaces like sinks, cutting boards, knives, and countertops before and after preparing foods.
- Persons in high risk groups should avoid hot dogs, deli meats, and meat spreads – or insure adequate heating to 165 degrees before consuming them.
- Keep refrigerators clean, wiping with soap and water and then rinsing with a sanitizing solution.
- Properly store raw and deli meats to avoid contaminating other foods.
While Listeria isn’t as common as some other foodborne illness like Salmonella, it can be more deadly with about 16% of those who contract the illness dying. To ensure the safety of your family, follow the tips above and avoid serving those foods that have been linked to past outbreaks to susceptible family members and friends.
Writer: Lisa Barlage, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension, Ross County.
Reviewer: Treva Williams, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension, Scioto County.