Digestive Health
Food Poisoning

What You Need to Know about Listeria

Although you might be more familiar with food-borne bugs like salmonella and e. coli, listeria is an even more dangerous bacteria that causes the illness listeriosis. According to the federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC), listeria causes an estimated 260 deaths; in 2011, the CDC says, it caused an estimated 33 deaths in 28 states among people who ate cantaloupe from a single farm.

The bacteria is found in soil, water and some animals, including poultry and cattle according to www.foodsafety.gov. It can also live in food processing plants and processed meats, experts say. (Unlike other germs, the foodsafety experts say, it can grow even in cold temperatures. In the case of the outbreak caused by contaminated cantaloupe, investigators concluded that the plant did not have adequate cleaning procedures.)

You can protect yourself by knowing the basics about listeria. Here, according to foodsafety, is what you need to know.

Risky foods

Ready-to-eat deli meats and hot dogs

Refrigerated pâtés or meat spreads

Unpasteurized (raw) milk and dairy products

Soft cheese made with unpasteurized milk, such as queso fresco, Feta, Brie, Camembert

Refrigerated smoked seafood

Raw sprouts

Incubation Period

3-70 days. [Editor’s note: People can become sick long after they eat contaminated food and may not immediately connect their illness with listeria.]


Fever, stiff neck, confusion, weakness, vomiting, sometimes preceded by diarrhea

Duration of Illness

Days to weeks

Who’s at Risk? 

Older adults (For more information on food safety for seniors, click here).

Pregnant women They are approximately 20 times more likely than other healthy adults to get listeriosis. In pregnant women, it is typically a mild, flu-like illness. In the child, listeriosis can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, or life-long health problems.

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; and diabetes

What Do I Do?

If you are very ill with fever or stiff neck, consult your doctor immediately. Antibiotics given promptly can cure the infection and, in pregnant women, can prevent infection of the fetus.

How Do I Prevent It?     

Do not drink raw (unpasteurized) milk, and do not eat foods 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.

For more information on listeria from www.foodsafety.gov, click here

you may also like

Recipes We