Listeria is a potentially fatal bacteria. “Listeria causes about 1,600 infections a year and about three to four outbreaks a year in the United States,” said Dr. Robert Glatter, an emergency physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.
According to the CDC, listeria causes about 260 deaths a year, far fewer than the number linked to salmonella.
“If you have eaten a food that has been recalled and you don’t have any symptoms there is no need to worry, said Dr. Brenden Jackson, a medical epidemiologist at the CDC. However, if symptoms develop over the next few weeks Jackson suggests seeing a doctor.
Most people who eat food contaminated with listeria will have nausea, vomiting, muscle ache and diarrhea. However, listeria can cause serious health problems if you are already suffering from health conditions like HIV, diabetes, or heart disease. Infants, the elderly and pregnant women are also at great risk for more serious symptoms if consuming listeria infected food.
Serious health issues caused by listeria include meningitis and blood poisoning. Listeria infections in pregnant women can lead to still born births or miscarriages.
Listeria is often found in unpasteurized dairy products and ready-to-eat meats like hot dogs and deli meats, according to Glatter.
According to the CDC, unlike most other types of bacteria, listeria can grow and multiply in a refrigerator. However, Jackson says finding the bacteria in ice cream is a rare occurrence.
“Over the years listeria outbreaks have mostly been among soft cheeses, deli meats and other ready-to-eat meats,” he said.
While no illnesses have been reported in the Sabra matter, the Blue Bell listeria contamination has led to at least 8 illnesses. According to the CDC, three people in Texas became ill from 2011 to 2014 after having the ice cream. Another five illnesses in Kansas occurred from 2014 to 2015 after patients consumed milkshakes made from Blue Bell ice cream.
Symptoms of listeria infection typically appear anywhere from two weeks to one month after exposure.
To reduce the chances of listeria infection, the CDC advises the following:
• Do not drink or cook with unpasteurized milk
• Clean refrigerator walls and shelves
• Clean spills in the refrigerator, especially juices from lunch meats, and raw meats and poultry
• Cook meat and poultry thoroughly
• Rinse all fresh fruits and vegetables thoroughly
• Scrub firm produce like melons and cucumbers with a produce brush
• Dry produce with a clean cloth or paper towel
• Separate uncooked meats and poultry from vegetables, cooked foods, and ready-to-eat foods
• Wash hands, knives, countertops and cutting boards after handling uncooked foods
• Keep the refrigerator at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or lower, and the freezer 0 degrees Fahrenheit or lower to prevent listeria growth.
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Cdc.gov: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Food Safety.”
Cdc.gov/listeria: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Listeria (Listeriosis).
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