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Simple steps to avoid listeria

Avoid listeria by taking these simple steps.
listeria, listeriosis, health, health tips

Passed on through food, listeria monocytogenes is a bacteria that can cause the potentially serious illness listeriosis. You can get listeriosis and not even know it. If you are healthy you may have no symptoms, or just very mild ones, but in rare cases, symptoms can be severe and even fatal.

People more at risk of developing listeriosis include pregnant women and their unborn babies, newborns, elderly people who are frail, and anyone whose immune system has been weakened – for example, cancer patients or people with Aids, diabetes or kidney disease. Listeriosis symptoms usually appear within two to 30 days of eating contaminated food, but it can take as long as two months for signs to show up.

Symptoms can include headache, fever, tiredness and aches and pains. Diarrhoea, nausea and stomach cramps are less common. In severe cases, symptoms may progress to meningitis and blood poisoning. Pregnant women may have very mild symptoms, but the infection can lead to serious consequences, such as miscarriage or premature birth.

Once food is contaminated with listeria, it can multiply quickly – even if it is refrigerated. There are about 25 cases of listeriosis in New Zealand every year and around one fifth of these occur in pregnant women. On average, between 5 and 7% of people who get listeriosis will die from it.

How to avoid listeriosis

  • If you are pregnant or have a weakened immune system, avoid foods that could carry listeria (see list).

  • Wash your hands thoroughly in hot soapy water before and after handling food, especially raw meat and poultry.

  • Follow the guidelines for the safe handling of food. These instructions include thoroughly defrosting food, washing fruit and vegetables, making sure poultry is cooked right through and keeping all perishable foods chilled until you are ready to cook them.

  • Refrigerate all leftovers immediately and eat them within two days.

  • Reheat leftovers until they are piping hot (over 70°C) and don’t reheat them more than once over.

For more advice, visit the website foodsmart.govt.nz

Food to avoid if you’re at risk

  • Cold meats, such as ham and salami (unless heated until piping hot).

  • Cold cooked chicken from delicatessen counters.

  • Soft cheeses. While those made from unpasteurised milk are more risky, it is advisable to give other soft cheeses such as brie and feta a miss, unless they are heated until piping hot.

  • Salads bought pre-prepared and pre-packaged.

  • Chilled fish, shellfish and crustaceans, either raw (such as sushi or sashimi) or smoked (including salmon).

  • Soft-serve ice cream.

  • Any unpasteurised dairy products.

Top tip

Step away from the deli counter if you’re at risk of listeriosis. While some deli foods are safe if cooked until piping hot (this kills the listeria bacteria), it’s advisable to avoid raw, smoked or pre-cooked foods if you are pregnant or you have cancer or another illness that means you’re vulnerable to infection.

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