What is listeria and why is it dangerous?

What is listeria and why is it dangerous?

The recent voluntary recall of all Blue Bell Creameries products due to the presence of the listeria bacteria found in two cartons of ice cream has made big news in recent weeks. The recall has prompted concern over listeria and listeriosis, the condition associated with the bacteria.

The onset of listeriosis arises after food contaminated with bacterium listeria monocytogenes is ingested. While the illness can be very serious—particularly in the elderly, pregnant women, newborns and people with weakened immune systems—listeriosis does not typically affect otherwise healthy people.

The infection is mostly associated with consumption of unpasteurized milk products and deli products that have not been properly processed. Since the listeria bacteria itself is found in soil, water and animal feces, it can also be found unwashed raw vegetables that have been fertilized with animal manure and in infected animal meat. The presence of listeria in widely manufactured food products—like Blue Bell ice cream—is usually due to dirty equipment or unsanitary plant conditions.

Onset symptoms of listeriosis include fever, muscle aches, nausea and diarrhea. If the infection spreads to the central nervous system, symptoms include headaches, stiff neck, confusion, changes in alertness, loss of balance and convulsions. In general, symptoms of the infection can begin to appear as soon as a few days after contaminated food has been eaten, but can take as long as two months to develop.

The effects of the illness can be mitigated by the administration of a prompt course of antibiotics. Since the listeria bacteria can survive both refrigeration and freezing for extended periods of time, those who are at high risk for contracting the infection should avoid eating those foods most often associated with the illness. Regardless of the latest recall or your risk factors for listeriosis, you should always follow food manufacturers’ recommendations for safe food preparation, consumption and storage.

If you have recently eaten a recalled food product, be on the alert for any of the symptoms listed above, and if they begin to develop, contact your doctor promptly. If symptoms arise after consuming products made from unpasteurized milk or hot dogs and deli meats that have not been heated to recommended temperatures, contact your doctor. If you develop high fever, neck stiffness, headache or experience confusion or sensitivity to light, seek immediate emergency care, as these may be signs of bacterial meningitis—a potentially fatal complication of listeriosis.

If you have concerns about products you currently have in your home, the best course of action is to simply dispose of the items in question. If you eat a lot of raw fruits and vegetables, be sure to clean them as thoroughly as possible, and remember to clean all surfaces that come in contact with food.

Posted: 5/06/2015 by Goshen Health
Filed under: Bacteria, Listeria, Listeriosis, Recall

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