It seems every few months now, there is a news report about a food recall due to Listeria. The most recent example involved certain brands of hummus. You might also remember the recall involving Jeni’s Ice Cream, which led to temporary closure of their Columbus stores.
What is Listeria and why should we be concerned? Listeria monocytogenes is a bacteria found in many places, such as soil, plants, and groundwater. It can also grow on farm animals and raw vegetables. The process of pasteurizing milk kills Listeria, which is yet another important reason for only consuming pasteurized dairy products. It can also grow in food manufacturing plants that don’t adequately clean items like drains, surfaces, refrigerators, and freezers. Unlike many other bacteria, cold temperatures don’t slow down the growth of Listeria. It’s usually found in deli meats, raw milk, raw cheese (refrigerated meat spreads, soft cheese (Brie/Feta, Camembert), smoked seafood, and sprouts.
Once Listeria enters the body, it settles in the GI tract where it can develop into the infection called Listeriosis. Listeriosis has minimal effect on healthy adults, even if they eat food that is contaminated. However, it can be hazardous for seniors, small children, pregnant women, those who have weakened immune systems or have had organ transplants, those with HIV/AIDS, cancer, diabetes, liver disease, or kidney disease.
Women who are pregnant are 20 times more likely to develop Listeriosis, so those who are expecting should completely avoid products made with raw dairy products. Also, those who are pregnant should avoid Brie and other soft cheese (other cheeses are fine as long as they are made from pasteurized milk), uncooked fish, and refrigerated smoked seafood and meat spreads. Heat deli meats and hot dogs until steaming hot before eating.
Reduce your risk further by keeping uncooked meats separate from other foods in the kitchen. Clean your refrigerator frequently, and set both your refrigerator and freezer to proper temperatures (40°F and 0°F respectively). Refrigerate your leftovers within two hours, and reheat them properly. And as always, keep your kitchen surfaces clean, and wash your hands before, during, and after food preparation.