We don't hear too much about a bacteria called Listeria but when we do, it's usually big news because thousands can become infected and some can die -- even if the bacteria is contained on just one farm. Technically called Listeria monocytogenes, this bacteria can be found in soil so fruits and vegetables are often the foods that become contaminated.
However, animals can also carry Listeria, thus the spread of the bacteria can be in meats and dairy products, especially foods that are undercooked, raw, unwashed or unpasteurized.
As with many bacterial infections, people with compromised or weakened immune systems are most at risk. The very young and old, pregnant women or people already ill with other conditions (particularly those with AIDS, cancer or diabetes) are more susceptible than stronger people already in good health.
According to EmpowHER's Listeria page:
an estimated 2,500 persons become seriously ill with listeriosis each year. Of these, 500 die. At increased risk are:
■ Pregnant women - about 20 times more likely than other healthy adults to get listeriosis (About one-third of listeriosis cases happen during pregnancy)
■ Newborns - suffer the serious effects of infection in pregnancy
■ Persons with weakened immune systems
■ Persons with cancer, diabetes, or kidney disease
■ Persons with AIDS - almost 300 times more likely to get listeriosis than people with normal immune systems
■ Persons who take glucocorticosteroid medications
■ The elderly
Right now, contaminated cantaloupe is the culprit for an outbreak of Listeria in America. The cantaloupe was grown on land owned by Jensen Farms' fields in Granada, Colorado. These cantaloupes were transported to many states, from California to Florida to Illinois.
A CNN report stated that labels with "Product of USA-Frontera Produce-Colorado Fresh-Rocky Ford-Cantaloupe, or a gray, yellow, and green sticker that says: Jensen Farms-Sweet Rocky Fords" on them should not be eaten. Jensen Farms also exports their cantaloupe and while not naming where, they said they have notified every country of the possibility of contamination.
This outbreak of Listeria is the biggest America has seen in the last decade.
While cooking food properly, eating only pasteurized dairy and washing raw foods thoroughly can help eliminate the risk of Listeria, there is no guarantee that this will eliminate all risks.
Listeria grows well in cool temperatures so refrigeration will not guard against the bacteria. Regular hand-washing can help to stop the spread.
Jensen Farms has stated they are doing everything to make sure no questionable products leave their plant and that they have notified all the potentially affected parties.
If people believe they may have eaten contaminated foods, they need to know that symptoms can take weeks or even months to show. Symptoms include headache, flu-like symptoms including fever, chills, muscle pain, diarrhea and stiff neck.
Pregnant women can go into premature labor. The risk of infection is high and giving birth to a stillborn baby is possible. Pregnant women need to be careful with their diet and call their doctor immediately if they suspect they may have been exposed to foods that may have contained Listeria. Antibiotics can be administered to those infected with this bacteria, particularly women who are pregnant.
Jensen Farms stopped shipping their cantaloupe two weeks ago but authorities fear the fruit may still be in the refrigerators of many, therefore the adage of "if it doubt, throw it out" applies.
EmpowHER.com. Listeria. Web. Sept. 29, 2011. https://www.empowher.com/media/reference/listeriosis
CNN.com. Tainted cantaloupes linked to 13 deaths, public health officials say. Web. Sept. 29. 2011.
Reviewed September 30, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith