January 20, 2020

Listeria: Remember Vulnerable Guests at Summer Cookouts

The USDA is giving advice on keeping your family healthy as you grill food on Memorial Day and throughout the summer. Follow the four basic rules of food safety: clean, separate, cook, and chill. We’ve already covered most of this advice, including grilling safety and picnic safety. More about that in the next few days! But the Listeria warning is something most people don’t know.

Egg Salad SandwichSome ready to eat foods may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes, a bacteria that can cause serious infections in at-risk groups. Deli foods such as cold cuts, smoked seafood, soft cheeses, and chicken or egg salad can contain this bacteria, which unfortunately grows and reproduces at refrigerator temperatures. If any of your guests include pregnant women, infants, the elderly, and those with compromised immune systems or chronic illnesses, don’t serve these foods at your gathering.¬†Pregnant women are particularly vulnerable to Listeria infections. While the woman may only have mild symptoms, listeriosis can cause miscarriage and stillbirth.

There have been several Listeria monocytogenes outbreaks in the past few years. Last year imported ricotta salata imported by Forever Cheese from Italy sickened 22 people in 13 states in 2012. Eighteen people were hospitalized and there were four deaths in that outbreak. And in 2011, a Listeria outbreak linked to whole cantaloupes from Jensen Farms in Colorado sickened 147 people nationwide. Seven of those illnesses were related to a pregnancy, causing one miscarriage. There were 33 deaths associated with that outbreak.

To avoid Listeria infections, the CDC recommends that anyone in a high risk group avoid hot dogs, luncheon meats, cold cuts, other deli meats, refrigerated pate, raw milk and juices, and meat spreads from delis. Also avoid soft cheese and refrigerated smoked seafood such as smoked salmon. It’s also very important to scrub fruits such as melons and vegetables with a stiff brush under running water before preparation. And keep fruits and vegetables refrigerated.

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