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Avoiding Listeria – What You Need To Know

by Andrew Thomson on July 15, 2018


In recent years listeria and salmonella has caused more deaths than any other bacteria.  In Australia, six people died earlier this year from eating contaminated rockmelon with the listeria organism.

News of another food safety incident associated with listeria contamination in frozen vegetables made headlines around the country during the week- this was certainly a talking point with consumers and on talkback radio.

Most pregnant women know about listeria and the foods to avoid but there are still many people in the at risk population are unaware of the risks with certain foods.

There are a number of  simple steps consumers can take to avoid this infection.

What is Listeria?

Listeria (Listeria monocytogenes) are bacteria that can cause serious illness and in some cases death, particularly in vulnerable people. Eating foods contaminated with Listeria is the most common way illness occurs. People at risk include:

  • pregnant women, their unborn and newborn children
  • older people 65 years of age or over
  • people with weakened immune systems by disease or illness (cancer, HIV/AIDS, diabetes, liver or kidney disease)
  • any person that has had an organ transplant

It is uncommon for healthy people to be at risk of Listeria infection.

Consult your doctor if you have any concerns about whether you are at risk.

The symptoms

The time symptoms usually start to show range from 2- 7 days but can take up to 90 days.

Symptoms in pregnant women include: mild flu-like symptoms, headaches, muscle aches, fever, nausea, and vomiting.

At risk people with illness: if you experience a high fever, severe headache, stiff neck, confusion or sensitivity to light, seek advice from your doctor or hospital.

Food sources

If you fall within the risk category, it is important that you follow specific guidelines to prevent infection by avoiding certain foods and handling food properly. Although listeria bacteria are killed with thorough cooking or by other heating methods, such as pasteurisation, these tough bugs can grow in the refrigerator and survive in the freezer. Listeria has been linked to these foods:

  • unpasteurised milk
  • soft cheese Feta, Brie, Camembert
  • ready-to-eat deli meats
  • pâtés and similar meat spreads
  • raw and frozen vegetables
  • coleslaw
  • smoked mussels
  • smoked seafood

Play it safe in the kitchen….

Make sure that your hands, utensils, cutting boards, countertops are all clean.

Rinse all fruits and vegetables thoroughly under cold, running water. It’s best not to wash and then store in the fridge as contamination of other foods may occur.

Buy Australian frozen fruits and vegetables. Country of Origin labelling makes it easier for the consumer to make the right choice.

A hard-bristled brush can be used to remove excess dirt. However, check to see that is clean, as this may lead to further contamination.

Before preparing any food, wash hands with soap and warm water and dry thoroughly. Using an anti-bacterial soap is not necessary.

Use a dedicated cutting board for raw fruit and vegetables.

Always clean the knife and cutting board when finished to avoid contaminating other food.

Home cooked meat and chicken should be stored in the refrigerator and use within a day of cooking.

Freshly prepared salads made at home are best.

Store food in a container with a tight-fitting lid or cover food with Gladwrap before placing in the refrigerator. Make certain foods do not leak juices onto other foods.

Keep your refrigerator clean and operate it below 5°C.

Place a thermometer in the refrigerator and check the temperature. Adjust the refrigerator temperature control, if necessary, to keep foods as cold as possible without causing them to freeze.

Listeria can contaminate other food through spills in the refrigerator. Clean up all spills in your refrigerator right away – especially juices from raw meat, and poultry. Using a paper towels works best.

Clean the inside walls and shelves of your refrigerator with warm water and liquid soap, then rinse.

Keeping these few tips in mind will help minimise your chances of eating any contaminated food, or worse…sharing it with someone else.

Related articles: Kitchen (Food Safety) Crimes Listeria Remains A Concern For The Young, The Elderly & The Unborn

Think ST Solutions offers you practical solutions at a management level and to your staff whether you operate in hospitals, aged care facilities, restaurants, hotels or the food industry generally. We specialise in developing useful tools to assist you in the areas of food safety, strategic planning, business management, risk and compliance training and easy to implement business consultancy solutions.