Types of Food Poisoning: Listeria / Listeriosis
Listeriosis is a serious infectioncaused by eating food contaminated with the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes. Listeriosisprimarily affects pregnant women, newborns, and adults with weakened immunesystems.
In the United States, an estimated 2,500 persons becomeseriously ill with listeriosis each year. Of these, 500 die. Pregnant women are about 20 times more likelythan other healthy adults to get listeriosis. About one-third of listeriosiscases happen during pregnancy. Otherpeople at risk include newborns (who suffer the serious effects of infection inpregnancy rather than the pregnant women themselves), people with cancer,diabetes, or kidney disease, people with AIDS (almost 300 times more likely toget listeriosis than people with normal immunesystems), people who take glucocorticosteroidmedications, and the elderly.
Symptoms of listeriosis includefever, muscle aches, and sometimes gastrointestinal symptoms (nausea ordiarrhea). If listeriosisspreads to the nervous system, symptoms such as headache, stiff neck,confusion, loss of balance, or convulsions can occur.
Infected pregnant women may experience only a mild flu-likeillness; however infections during pregnancy can lead to miscarriage orstillbirth, premature delivery, or infection of the newborn. Newborns rather than the pregnant womenthemselves suffer the serious effects of infection in pregnancy.
How does Listeria get intofood?
Listeria monocytogenes isfound in soil and water. Vegetables canbecome contaminated from the soil or from manure used as fertilizer.
Animals can carry Listeria without appearing ill and can contaminate foods ofanimal origin such as meats and dairy products.Listeriahas been found in a variety of raw foods, such as uncooked meats andvegetables, as well as in processed foods that become contaminated afterprocessing, such as soft cheeses and cold cuts at the deli counter. Unpasteurized (raw)milk or foods made from unpasteurized milk maycontain Listeria.
Listeriais killed by pasteurization and cooking.However, in certain ready-to-eat foods such as hot dogs and deli meats,contamination may occur after cooking but before packaging.
How do you get listeriosis?
You get listeriosis by eating foodcontaminated with Listeria. Babies can be born with listeriosisif their mothers eat contaminated food during pregnancy. Although healthy persons may consumecontaminated foods without becoming ill, those at increased risk for infectioncan probably get listeriosis after eating foodcontaminated with even a few bacteria.Persons at risk can prevent listeriosis byavoiding certain high-risk foods and by handling food properly.
The general guidelines recommended for the prevention of listeriosis are similar to those used to help prevent otherfoodborne illnesses, such as salmonellosis.
Reducing the Risk of Listeriosis
- Thoroughly cook raw food from animal sources, such as beef, pork, or poultry
- Wash raw vegetables thoroughly before eating
- Keep uncooked meats separate from vegetables and from cooked foods and ready-to-eat foods
- Avoid unpasteurized (raw) milk or foods made from unpasteurized milk
- Wash hands, knives, and cutting boards after handling uncooked foods
- Consume perishable and ready-to-eat foods as soon as possible
Recommendations for persons at high risk (in addition to theabove general recommendations):
- Do not eat hot dogs, luncheon meats, or deli meats, unless they are reheated until steaming hot
- Avoid getting fluid from hot dog packages on other foods, utensils, and food preparation surfaces, and wash hands after handling hot dogs, luncheon meats, and deli meats.
- Do not eat soft cheeses such as feta, Brie, and Camembert, blue-veined cheeses, or Mexican-style cheeses such as queso blanco, queso fresco, and Panela, unless they have labels that clearly state they are made from pasteurized milk.
- Do not eat refrigerated pâtés or meat spreads. Canned or shelf-stable pâtés and meat spreads may be eaten.
- Do not eat refrigerated smoked seafood, unless it is contained in a cooked dish, such as a casserole, Refrigerated smoked seafood, such as salmon, trout, whitefish, cod, tuna or mackerel, is most often labeled as "nova-style," "lox," "kippered," "smoked," or "jerky." The fish is found in the refrigerator section or sold at deli counters of grocery stores and delicatessens. Canned or shelf-stable smoked seafood may be eaten.
There is no routine screening test for susceptibility to listeriosis during pregnancy, as there is for rubella andsome other congenital infections. If youhave symptoms such as fever or stiff neck, consult your doctor. A blood or spinal fluid test (to cultivate Listeria) willshow if you have listeriosis. During pregnancy, a blood test is the mostreliable way to find out if your symptoms are due to listeriosis.
What should I do if Ihave eaten a food recalled because of Listeria contamination?
The risk of an individual person developing Listeria infection after consumption of acontaminated product is very small. Ifyou have eaten a contaminated product and do not have any symptoms, it isactually recommended that you do not undergo any tests or treatment, even ifyou are in a high-risk group. However,if you are in a high-risk group, and have eaten the contaminated product, andwithin two months become ill with fever or signs of serious illness, then youshould contact your physician and inform him or her about this exposure.
When infection occurs during pregnancy, antibiotics givenpromptly to the pregnant woman can often prevent infection of the fetus ornewborn. Babies with listeriosisreceive the same antibiotics as adults, although a combination of antibioticsis often used until physicians are certain of the diagnosis. Even with prompt treatment, some infectionsresult in death. This is particularlylikely in the elderly and in persons with other serious medical problems.