It’s been in the news recently, and may have caught your eye: yet another outbreak of Listeria is making the rounds, and this time it’s frozen vegetable products that are affected. Last year, several major ice cream makers were impacted by the same dangerous bacteria, right at the height of the summer season. (For a full list of recalled products, visit the FDA website). So what is it about Listeria that makes it so easy to catch, and what steps can you take to prevent it in your home or place of business.
What is Listeria?
Listeriosis is caused by a bacterium called Listeria monocytogenes. This bacteria is more common than many believe. As we explained in a post last year, “Listeria is a common bacterium found in soil and water that is easily introduced into kitchens and manufacturing facilities via raw vegetable or animal products. Once it contaminates an area it can be challenging to get rid of; unlike most bacteria, Listeria grows well in refrigeration. Often found in processed meats and unpasteurized dairy, Listeria may infect other foods through contact with affected equipment.”
The FDA reports that Listeria can sometimes be difficult to trace to a source as symptoms may not appear until weeks after the initial infection. Typical sflu-like symptoms include: muscle aches, gastrointestinal symptoms, and a fever or chills. Only medical tests can distinguish between Listeria, the flu, and other foodborne viruses; if you believe you might have listeriosis, see your doctor as soon as possible for proper treatment.
Why is it Dangerous?
The ever-present nature is one factor that makes listeria outbreaks hard to control. Also, listeria is linked to many everyday foods, especially ready-to-eat items like deli meats, hot dogs, smoked seafood and store-prepared salads. However, it can be found in many other foods. This year’s outbreak concerns frozen vegetables, but fresh fruits and vegetables are also known to carry the bacteria. Previous outbreaks have been traced to lettuce, cantaloupe, and strawberries, just to name a few.
Finally, unlike most bacteria, Listeria germs continue to grow in refrigerated temperatures. If you unknowingly refrigerate Listeria-contaminated food, germs could multiply in the cool temperature, contaminate the surfaces, and possibly spread to other food, increasing the likelihood that you and your family will become sick.
Those most at risk for listeriosis include pregnant women, older adults and people with compromised immune systems and certain chronic medical conditions (such as HIV/AIDS, cancer, diabetes, kidney disease, and transplant patients). In pregnant women, listeriosis can cause miscarriage or stillbirth, and serious illness or death is possible in newborn babies.
What Precautions Can You Take?
FDA and FSIS recommend that those who are most at risk from the dangers of listeria reheat hot dogs and lunch meats until steaming hot. Consumers are also advised to avoid unpasteurized milk and soft cheeses (such as feta, brie, camembert, blue-veined cheeses, “queso blanco,” “queso fresco” or Panela), unless they are made with pasteurized milk. All fruits and vegetables, even those with peels, should be scrubbed thoroughly before eating, and extra care should be taken when eating at restaurants, where preparations may not have been made with as much caution.
To further protect yourself and your family from Listeria, the FDA and Aftermath’s experts recommend
- Keep refrigerated foods cold to help impede bacteria growth
- Wrap or cover foods with a sheet of plastic wrap or foil to prevent leaks and cross-contamination.
- Use precooked and ready-to-eat foods as soon as you can.
- Clean up spills in your refrigerator right away, and regularly wipe down the walls and shelves.
- Clean hands and kitchen surfaces often, with warm, soapy water.
- Wash dish cloths, towels and cloth grocery bags in the hot cycle of your washing machine.
What Else Can You Do?
If someone in your home becomes sick because of listeria or another foodborne bacteria, hiring a professional cleanup service is a safer, more effective alternative to traditional cleaning or maid services. Aftermath Services provides comprehensive communicable disease and bacteria cleanup for a wide range of situations. To learn more about biohazard cleaning, visit Aftermath online, or call 877-872-4339. Services are available nationwide, 24/7.