Following a plant inspection in December 2011, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ordered Mill Stream Corp. of Hancock, Maine to detain cold-smoked salmon after detecting Listeria monocytogenes in equipment in areas throughout the food processing and storage facility.
Coming close on the heels of this incident, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (MDPH) issued an alert on December 31, 2011, warning consumers about cheese supplied by Quebec-based Fromagerie Marie Kade that was linked to a case of listeriosis. Recalled in Canada, it was feared that the cheese could still be in circulation in the U.S.
And it is hard to forget the tragic deaths that followed in the wake of the 2011 cantaloupe listeria outbreak in 28 states.
A public health problem in the U.S.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, (CDC) Listeriosis is a serious, potentially life-threatening infection usually caused by eating food contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes. Listeria is particularly dangerous to the elderly, pregnant women, newborns and adults with weakened immune systems.
Listeriosis symptoms generally manifest as fever and muscle aches and can be preceded by diarrhea or other types of gastrointestinal distress. The CDC reports that almost everyone diagnosed with listeriosis has an “invasive” infection in which the bacteria spread beyond the gastrointestinal tract. Additional symptoms can include headache, stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance, and convulsions.
Pregnant women typically experience only a mild flu-like illness. However, listeria infections during pregnancy can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, premature delivery, or life-threatening infection of the newborn.
Steps you can take to reduce the risk of listeriosis
Listeria bacteria have been found in a variety of raw foods such as uncooked meats and vegetables as well as foods that have become contaminated after processing, such as soft cheeses, hot dogs, deli meat, smoked seafood and unpasteurized (raw) milk and cheeses.
To safeguard against Listeria and other foodborne bacteria, the FDA recommends you take the following precautions:
- Rinse all raw produce before eating, cutting or cooking, and dry with a clean cloth or paper towel.
- Scrub all firm produce such as melons or cucumbers with a clean produce brush.
- Keep uncooked meats and poultry separate from vegetables, cooked foods and ready-to-eat foods.
- Wash your hands, knives, countertops and cutting boards after handling and preparing uncooked foods.
- Because Listeria bacteria can grow in food in your refrigerator, always make sure the temperature in your fridge is 40 degrees F or lower and the freezer is 0 degrees F or lower.
- Clean up spills in your refrigerator immediately, especially juices from lunch meat, hot dogs, and raw meat or poultry.
- Thoroughly cook all raw meat to a safe internal temperature.
- Use precooked or ready-to-eat food as soon as you can and do not store in the refrigerator beyond the use-by date.
- Use left-overs within 3 to 4 days.
- Persons at higher risk for listeriosis, including the elderly, pregnant women, and those with weakened immune systems should take extra precautions with regard to meats, cheeses and seafood.
Following these guidelines will ensure you and your family are eating properly handled and prepared food. If you have any questions about food safety, contact the MDPH Food Protection Program at 617-983-6712.