UC Davis Health experts share who’s most at risk and how to prevent a listeria infection
With the nationwide voluntary recall of frozen fruits, due to possible listeria contamination, you might be wondering what exactly listeria is, who is at risk and how to prevent a listeria infection.
What is listeria?
Listeria monocytogenes is a bacterium that can contaminate food. It’s a pretty hardy bacteria that can live a long time in the environment and a long time in food.
What types of food are prone to listeria contamination?
It can be found in:
- Dairy products, including unpasteurized milk
- Soft cheeses, like queso fresco
- Deli items, including cold cuts and hot dogs
- Fruits and vegetables
Who is most at risk for becoming ill with listeria?
Everybody can be at risk for getting infected. The following groups are at higher risk for symptoms and have more severe manifestations of the disease:
- Women who are pregnant
- Anyone over 50 years of age
- Those with a compromised immune system
Symptoms can show up anytime between one day and three weeks after exposure. The symptoms can be flu-like, including fever and malaise, and gastrointestinal, usually diarrhea. It can be more invasive for the previously mentioned risk groups, and can lead to septicemia or meningitis.
How common is listeria?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are about 1,600 cases in the United States each year, and about 260 deaths. At UC Davis Children’s Hospital, we see about one newborn case a year.
What should someone with symptoms do?
If someone is symptomatic and had the recalled frozen fruits, I’d recommend seeing your health care provider and I would make sure to mention that to them. If you have any of the recalled products in your home, throw them away. If animals can get into the garbage, wrap them in a plastic bag and then throw them away.
How is listeria infection diagnosed?
A health care provider can order a PCR test of a stool sample, which can detect listeria.
How is listeria treated?
Most people with intestinal illness recover on their own and antibiotic treatment is not needed. Patients who have invasive illness like septicemia or meningitis are treated with antibiotics.
How can people avoid getting listeria?
Follow safe food handling and cooking recommendations:
- Wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly.
- Make sure any cooked foods are cooked appropriately, to 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
- When reheating leftovers, make sure they’re completely reheated.
- Thoroughly clean all utensils and preparation surfaces.
- Be aware of any recalls by visiting gov.
- If you are in a risk category, you may want to avoid some of the higher risk foods.
The safe food handling recommendations are not just applicable for listeria. E. coli can be found in different foods, like ground beef, but the same precautions apply.