Fact Sheet: What is Listeria?

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WHAT IS LISTERIA?

Listeria are bacteria commonly found in the environment. Listeriosis, a rare disease caused by these bacteria, occurs when someone eats food contaminated with Listeria. Image courtesy of Brian Sauders, New York State Department of Agriculture & Markets Food Laboratory DivisionListeria is a hardy bacteria found in soil and water that can be carried by animals. It can be very hard to get rid of once it contaminates a processing facility, partly because it grows very well in refrigeration. It is commonly found in processed meats, unpasteurized cheeses and unpasteurized milk, and it is sometimes found in other foods as well — listeria in cantaloupes was linked to 30 deaths in a 2011 outbreak.

WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?

  • Fever
  • Stiff neck
  • Confusion
  • Weakness
  • Vomiting, sometimes preceded by diarrhea

AM I AT RISK?

Listeria generally only affects:

listeria facts

Older adults

Pregnant women

People with weakened immune systems

Organ transplant patients who are receiving drugs to prevent the body from rejecting the organ

People with certain diseases, such as:

  • HIV/AIDS or other autoimmune diseases
  • Cancer
  • End-stage renal disease
  • Liver disease
  • Alcoholism
  • Diabetes

Healthy, younger adults and most children can consume listeria with no ill effects or mild illness.

HOW CAN I PROTECT AGAINST LISTERIA?listeria foods

  • Do not drink raw (unpasteurized) milk, and do not eat foods, like some soft cheeses, that have unpasteurized milk in them.
  • Wash hands, knives, countertops, and cutting boards after handling and preparing uncooked foods.
  • Rinse raw produce thoroughly under running tap water before eating.
  • Keep uncooked meats, poultry, and seafood separate from vegetables, fruits, cooked foods, and ready-to-eat foods.
  • Thoroughly cook raw food from animal sources, such as meat, poultry, or seafood to a safe internal temperature.
  • Wash hands, knives, countertops, and cutting boards after handling and preparing uncooked foods.
  • Consume perishable and ready-to-eat foods as soon as possible.
  • Persons in higher risk groups should heat hot dogs, cold cuts, and deli meats before eating them.

WHY IS LISTERIA SO DEADLY?

Listeria is less well-known than other pathogens like salmonella and E. coli, which cause many more illnesses in tainted food every year. But, according to the Centers for Disease Control, one in five people who get sick from listeria can die. The people who get sick from listeria are often already weaker and more vulnerable to disease.

More information from the CDC

Information from FoodSafety.gov and MARY CLARE JALONICK, Associated Press

 

 

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