I have friends who love their ice cream treats and have been in a tizzy after two leading brands pulled their products from grocery shelves after finding listeria in their production facilities. That news made me realize that many of us have no idea what listeria is (and may confuse it with a certain mouthwash). So let’s learn more….
Listeria is a type of bacteria that is found in animals, the soil and water. These bacteria rarely cause illness among healthy people, but can be fatal to unborn babies, newborns and people who have weakened immune systems. This video offers a good overview of listeria and was published in 2013 when these bacteria were found on lettuce and cantaloupe:
The symptoms of infection may show up several days after eating contaminated food; however, they may not emerge until several months after you consumed the food. Initial symptoms usually include fever, muscle aches, nausea and diarrhea. However, if these bacteria spread to your nervous system, you may be faced with loss of balance, stiff neck, headache, confusion and convulsions. Therefore, it’s important to watch for possible signs of infection if you’ve eaten a food that’s been recalled. If you start to experience symptoms, be sure to contact your doctor.
Listeria Danger Zone – Your Kitchen
While we can take heart that these companies are in the process of cleaning their production lines, listeria also may be growing in a place literally closer to home – your kitchen. In fact, listeria can grow in cold temperatures (including your refrigerator and freezer) and will only be killed by cooking and pasteurization. Foods that have a higher chance of being infected by listeria include:
Deli meats and hot dogs
Refrigerated pates or meat spreads
Unpasteurized milk and dairy products made from this type of milk
Soft cheeses that are made with unpasteurized milk (such as brie, blue-veined cheese and feta)
Refrigerated smoked seafood
Store-prepared deli salads
These bacteria also can spread to foods that originally weren’t contaminated. Therefore, it’s important to be vigilant in store and preparing food through:
Rinsing raw produce thoroughly in the tap water prior to eating or using it in a recipe.
Keeping foods separate and make sure to cover them with plastic wrap or foil, or put them in plastic bags or clean covered containers prior to storing them in the refrigerator.
Setting your refrigerator at 40 degrees F or lower and the freezer to 0 degrees or lower.
Washing your hands, knives, countertops and cutting boards after working with uncooked foods.
Cleaning up all spills in the refrigerator right away.
Washing dish cloths, towels and cloth grocery bags often in the washing machine’s hot cycle.