Thursday, August 21, 2014

What You Should Know about Listeriosis

Listeria may be found in cold lunch
or deli meats and soft cheese.
Listeriosis is an illness that has made its way into the headlines lately. A type of food poisoning, Listeriosis is caused by consuming food that is contaminated with the Listeria monocytogenes (L. monocytogenes) bacterium. While the bacteria aren’t a threat for the majority of generally healthy people, they are of particular concern to pregnant women due to harm they can cause to the fetus or newborn. Listeriosis is also known to affect the elderly and adults with impaired immune systems.

Listeria is found in soil and water. Some animals, including poultry and cattle, are natural carriers of Listeria, so the bacteria can be present in unpasteurized milk and milk products. Additionally, food processing plants sometimes harbor the bacteria.

For the at-risk population, Listeriosis can undoubtedly be worrying. Fortunately, there are a number of ways that those at a higher risk can protect themselves from Listeria, including the following:

  • Avoid consuming hot dogs, cold luncheon or deli meats. Or, heat these foods until they are steaming before you eat them.
  • Don’t eat unpasteurized milk or milk products, including soft cheeses, such as feta, Brie and queso blanco fresco. When in doubt, check the label of cheeses to ensure they are made from pasteurized milk.
  • Avoid refrigerated pâté or meat spreads and refrigerated smoked seafood. While you should avoid refrigerated varieties of these foods, canned options are generally safe.
  • Do not consume salads (i.e. ham, chicken, egg, tuna, seafood) that were prepared in a store.

Additionally, be sure to follow everyday safe food handling practices, including keeping raw meats separate from other food, thoroughly rinsing fruits and vegetables before eating them, washing hands after handling food, cooking meats thoroughly and storing foods safely at the appropriate temperature.

Symptoms of Listeriosis can include fever, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. If you are in one of the high-risk categories and have eaten food that is part of a Listeria recall, contact your doctor. He or she will be able to determine if further testing for Listeria is necessary. In some cases, patients may need intravenous (IV) antibiotic treatment to prevent or slow down the progression of Listeriosis and offer protection to the fetus in pregnant patients.

For more information on Listeria, Listeriosis and safe food handling, visit In need of a physician for yourself or a family member? Try GBMC’s Find a Doctor search tool at

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