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Listeria outbreak What to know and how to protect yourself

A recent listeria outbreak has raised concerns about food safety and the importance of taking preventive measures to protect oneself from this harmful bacteria. Listeriosis, the infection caused by listeria, can be particularly dangerous for pregnant women, newborns, the elderly, and individuals with weakened immune systems. Understanding listeria, recognizing the symptoms of listeriosis, and knowing how to reduce the risk of infection is essential for ensuring your health and safety.

Listeria monocytogenes, the bacterium responsible for listeriosis, is found in soil, water, and some animals, including poultry and cattle. It can also contaminate foods, particularly soft cheeses, deli meats, unpasteurized dairy products, and ready-to-eat foods like prepackaged salads. Unlike many other pathogens, listeria can grow at refrigerator temperatures, making it a persistent threat even in well-maintained kitchens.

The symptoms of listeriosis can vary but typically include fever, muscle aches, nausea, and diarrhea. If the infection spreads to the nervous system, symptoms such as headache, stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance, and convulsions can occur. Pregnant women may experience mild flu-like symptoms, but listeriosis can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, premature delivery, or life-threatening infection of the newborn.

Practice Good Hygiene: Always wash your hands with soap and water before and after handling food. Ensure that utensils, cutting boards, and surfaces are cleaned thoroughly before preparing foods.

Cook Food Thoroughly: Listeria is killed by cooking. Make sure to cook meat, poultry, and seafood to the recommended temperatures to eliminate any bacteria.

Store Food Properly: Keep your refrigerator at 40°F (4°C) or lower and your freezer at 0°F (-18°C) or lower. Use ready-to-eat foods as soon as possible to minimize the risk of listeria growth.

Avoid Risky Foods: If you are at a higher risk of listeriosis (e.g., pregnant, elderly, immunocompromised), avoid consuming soft cheeses unless they're labeled as made with pasteurized milk, deli meats, and hot dogs unless they're heated to a steaming hot temperature before eating, and unpasteurized dairy products.

Handle Produce Safely: Wash fruits and vegetables under running water before eating, cutting, or cooking them, even if you plan to peel them. Scrub firm produce like melons and cucumbers with a clean produce brush.

Be Cautious with Leftovers: Consume or freeze leftovers within four days. When reheating, ensure the food reaches an internal temperature of 165°F (74°C) to kill any potential listeria bacteria.

By implementing these safety measures, you can significantly reduce your risk of contracting listeriosis. If you suspect you have been infected with listeria, especially if you are part of a high-risk group, seek medical attention promptly. Early diagnosis and treatment are crucial for preventing severe complications associated with listeriosis.

In summary, the recent listeria outbreak serves as a reminder of the importance of food safety practices. By staying informed, practicing good hygiene, and taking precautionary steps, you can protect yourself and your family from the dangers of listeria and ensure your well-being amidst this public health concern.

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