Word of the Week – Listeria: I heard the name before but did some research to find out exactly what it means because last weekend someone I’m very close to got violently ill (her words) from what she believed was caused by eating an apricot.
Listeria is the name of a bacteria found in soil and water and some animals, including poultry and cattle. It can also live in food processing plants and contaminate a variety of processed meats.
THE BAD NEWS:
Food-borne illness is on the rise, and some experts are concerned that our increasing reliance on large-scale industrial farming may be at least partly to blame. But truthfully, pointing fingers is not that easy. Listeria originates from waste– animal or human — used as fertilizer, and flourishes in water. Fruits and vegetables become contaminated with listeria when they touch soil, mud or water that contains the bacteria.
Lately canteloupes have picked up the listeria bacteria (great, my latest kitchen gadget is a double-sided melon baller), as can other melons, but so can any fruit that’s sprayed or washed with water containing listeria picked up from the soil.
It will survive! Listeria bacteria can survive refrigeration and even freezing. That’s why people who are at higher risk of serious infections should avoid eating the types of food most likely to contain listeria bacteria.
THE GOOD NEWS:
But here’s the thing to remember, the listeria is on the outside of the fruit – it doesn’t spread throughout the flesh. So it’s not going to help to avoid certain types of fruits — the damage to your diet and health would far outweigh the potential safety benefits, statistically speaking. (Sad stories are all over California about canteloupes left rotting in the fields – and there’s nothing wrong with those canteloupes.) What to do? Wash fruit as soon as you buy it with an antibacterial fruit and vegetable wash or, in a pinch, with antibacterial dish soap. Wash it again before you eat it, or better yet, peel it. But wash it even if you do peel it. Just peeling doesn’t cut it (seriously, no pun intended) because the bacteria could be transferred on your hands.
Ready-to-eat deli meats and hot dogs Refrigerated pâtés or meat spreads Unpasteurized (raw) milk and dairy products Soft cheese made with unpasteurized milk, such as queso fresco, Feta, Brie, Camembert Refrigerated smoked seafood Raw sprouts
If you develop a listeria infection, you may experience:
Fever Muscle Aches Nausea Diarrhea
Symptoms may begin a few days after you’ve eaten contaminated food, but it may take as long as two months before the first signs and symptoms of infection begin.
If the listeria infection spreads to your nervous system, signs and symptoms may include:
Headache Stiff Neck Confusion or changes in alertness Loss of balance Convulsions
When to see a doctor:
If you’ve eaten a food that’s been recalled because of a listeria outbreak, pay close attention to any possible signs or symptons of illness. If you experience fever, muscle aches, nausea or diarrhea, contact your doctor. The same goes for illness after eating a potentially contaminated product, such as foods made with unpasteurized milk or poorly heated hot dogs or deli meats.
If you experience a high fever, severe headache, stiff neck, confusion or sensitivity to light, seek emergency care. These signs and symptoms may indicate bacterial meningitis, a life-threatening complication of listeria infection.
Listeria bacteria can be found in soil, water and animal feces. Humans typically are infected by consuming: Raw vegetables that have been contaminated from the soil or from contaminated manure used as fertilizer Infected animal meat Unpasteurized milk or foods made with unpasteurized milk Certain processed foods – such as soft cheeses, hot dogs and deli meats that have been contaminated after processing.
Unborn babies can contract a listeria infection from the mother via the placenta.
If you have eaten food that has been recalled because of listeria contamination, see a doctor only if you are experiencing signs and symptoms of a listeria infection.
To prevent a listeria infection, follow simple food safety guidelines:
- Keep things clean. Wash your hands thoroughly with warm, soapy water before and after handling or preparing food. After cooking, use hot, soapy water to wash the utensils, cutting board and other food preparation surfaces.
- Scrub raw vegetables. Clean raw vegetables with a scrub brush or vegetable brush under plenty of running water.
- Cook your food thoroughly. Use a food thermometer to make sure your meat, poultry and egg dishes are cooked to a safe temperature.
- I’d like to suggest “buying local” is best, but if you live in California that might not help. Just be aware and enjoy your summer in spite of all this. XO
- Sources: Forbes.com & Mayoclinic.org