Listeria is a harmful bacteria you can’t see, smell or taste

Listeria is the third leading cause of death from food poisoning in the U.S.

Listeria monocytogenes is scientific for the bacteria listeria which can cause the foodborne illness, listeriosis. Listeria can be found in oil, water and plants, but you cannot see, smell or taste it. Different than other bacteria, listeria can grow in the refrigerator and in warm food. It’s commonly linked to raw meat, unpasteurized dairy products and ready-to-eat food, such as deli meat, hot dogs and soft cheeses.

Fever, fatigue, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea are all symptoms of listeriosis. Other symptoms may include headache, stiff neck, confusion and loss of balance. Meningitis, an infection of the brain and spinal cord, and septicemia, bacteria in the bloodstream, are the more serious symptoms that can result from listeriosis.

The potential dangers of foods contaminated from the listeria bacteria is increasing. Symptoms of foodborne illness vary from person to person. Pregnant women, people over 65 and those with compromised immune systems are more likely to be negatively affected by this harmful bacteria.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), pregnant women are ten times more likely to get listeriosis. Listeria can cause miscarriages, stillbirths, premature birth and even death in newborns whose mothers have contracted the illness.

The CDC reports that people 65 years of age and older are four times more likely to get this foodborne illness than the general public and they suffer with more than half of all the reported listeria infections. Reasons for this include a weakened immune system and they have reduced stomach acid that is important in killing bad bacteria.

To prevent the possibility of listeriosis Michigan State University Extension offers these five tips to pregnant women, people over 65 and those with compromised immune systems:

  1. Thoroughly heat ready-to-eat foods such as hot dogs and deli meat before eating.
  2. Purchase pasteurized milk. Pasteurization is a process that kills harmful bacteria by heating milk to a specific temperature for a set period of time.
  3. Avoid soft cheeses such as Brie and feta.
  4. Throw out any product that has passed its use-by or expiration date
  5. Prevent cross-contamination between raw and ready-to eat food

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