Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Avoiding Listeria: What You Should Be Aware of and How to Keep Yourself Safe

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A dangerous outbreak of listeria in 11 states has been connected to many dairy products, like popular Super Bowl snacks queso fresco and Cotija cheese, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. So, how can you lower your chances of getting sick?

What you should know
Listeria is a tough germ that doesn’t give up easily. It can keep growing even in the fridge, which is something other bad bacteria like salmonella and E. coli can’t do.

In the United States, listeria is the third biggest cause of death from foodborne sickness, causing around 260 deaths each year, as per the CDC.

The US Food and Drug Administration stated, “Even with enough antibiotic treatment, the illness has a high mortality rate” of 20% to 30%.

Healthy adults and kids might just get a little sick without needing to go to the hospital or take strong medicine. But if your immune system is not strong, like if you’re older, had an organ transplant, or deal with things like cancer, kidney problems, diabetes, or HIV/AIDS, you could get really sick and even die.

Pregnant people are more likely to get sick from a germ called listeria, and it can be deadly for the baby. Hispanic pregnant women, especially those who eat certain traditional cheeses like queso fresco, are at the highest risk. The germ is more likely in foods made with raw milk, like 50 to 160 times more likely, according to the FDA.

The CDC knows about 26 people in 11 states who got sick from listeria between June 2014 and December 2023. Two people died in California and Texas because of it.

After talking to sick people and checking places, the CDC found that queso fresco and Cotija cheese made by Rizo-López Foods are where the sickness is coming from.

In the ’90s, the CDC found that deli meats and hot dogs often caused listeria outbreaks. This was because it’s hard to fully clean the bacteria from the nooks and crannies of deli equipment.

But it’s not just deli meats; listeria outbreaks are also linked to cantaloupe, celery, ice cream, spinach, soft cheeses, and sprouts.

How to stay safe:
1. Keep things clean: Regularly clean your fridge with hot water and soap. Prepare meats and veggies separately, and sanitize your cooking areas, says the CDC.

2. Keep it cool: Listeria grows easily in cool temperatures. Keep your fridge at 41°F (5°C) or lower and your freezer at 0°F (minus 18°C) or lower.

3. Be cautious with raw milk: According to the CDC, eating foods made from raw milk is one of the riskiest ways to get infected with listeria and other germs.

4. Watch out for soft cheese: If you’re pregnant or at high risk, avoid soft cheeses like queso fresco, brie, and feta unless they’re labeled as made with pasteurized milk, warns the CDC. Some soft cheeses may be contaminated during the making process, the agency adds.

Sprouts: The CDC warns that merely rinsing alfalfa, clover, radish, mung bean, or any sprouts won’t get rid of bacteria. If you’re at a higher risk, avoid eating raw or lightly cooked sprouts. Even if you grow them at home, make sure to heat them thoroughly, as bacteria can lurk there too. When dining out, make it clear that you don’t want any raw sprouts in your food.

Leafy greens: Some greens like kale, spinach, lettuce, and wild rocket grow close to the ground, making them more prone to listeria contamination from the soil. To stay safe, always wash greens thoroughly using these steps:

– Wash your hands with soapy water for 20 seconds before and after handling leafy greens.
– Don’t soak greens in the sink, as it spreads bacteria from one leaf to all the others.
– Remove any torn, bruised, or outer leaves.
– Gently scrub each leaf under running water and dry them with a clean cloth.

Melons: Melons can also be a source of listeria. Consume cut melon immediately and discard any left unrefrigerated for four hours or more, says the CDC. Refrigerate cut melons at 41 degrees Fahrenheit (5 degrees Celsius) or colder, but for no longer than seven days.

Deli meats and hot dogs: If you’re pregnant or at a higher risk, avoid eating cold cuts like bologna, hot dogs, lunch meats, fermented or dry sausages, or other deli meats unless they’re heated to steaming hot (165 degrees Fahrenheit or 74 degrees Celsius) just before serving, according to the CDC.

The CDC advises against eating refrigerated pâté or meat spreads from a deli, meat counter, or the refrigerated section of a store. Opt for safer choices like meat spreads and pâté that don’t need refrigeration before opening, such as those in cans, jars, or sealed pouches. Remember to refrigerate these foods after opening.

If you’re having these foods at home, be cautious not to let the juice from hot dog and

lunch meat packages touch other foods, plates, or surfaces where you prepare food. Remember to wash your hands thoroughly after handling any kind of hot dog, lunch or deli meat, the agency suggests.

Keep an eye on how long you keep such foods in your home. The CDC advises discarding factory-sealed unopened packages of hot dogs, lunch, and deli meats after two weeks in the refrigerator. Opened packages of deli meats or any sliced by a deli should be thrown away after three to five days, and hot dogs after one week.

When it comes to cold smoked fish, avoid eating it unless it’s canned, shelf-stable, or part of a cooked dish like a casserole, especially if you’re at a higher risk, according to the CDC.

Shelf-stable foods like canned tuna, sardines, and salmon don’t pose a higher risk of listeria. However, not all canned foods are shelf-stable, warns the CDC.

“Some canned foods are labeled ‘Keep Refrigerated.’ Examples of such items include cold smoked fish, such as salmon, trout, whitefish, cod, tuna, and mackerel,” the CDC notes. These cold smoked fish items are often labeled as ‘nova-style,’ ‘lox,’ ‘kippered,’ ‘smoked,’ or ‘jerky’ and are usually found at seafood or deli counters in grocery stores and delicatessens.

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