The Dole recall of bagged lettuce over possible listeria contamination raises new concerns about infection.
Although the company said that no illnesses have yet been reported (as of June 26), you may remember that listeria contamination in cantaloupes resulted in over 30 deaths in 2011.
Three health Experts on JustAnswer offer insights below on the dangerous bacteria and how to avoid it.
The facts of listeria infection
The bacteria can be found in soil, water, and animal feces. Human infection usually occurs after consuming tainted fruits or vegetables, uncooked meat, unpasteurized milk or foods, or processed foods like soft cheese, hot dogs, or deli meat.
“The Listeria bacillus is not airborne, so you can’t catch it breathing near contaminated food or surfaces,” said Valarie D’Acquisto, RN. Direct contact is required for infection, so cleaning food storage and preparation areas can help decrease risk.
“The only way to kill the bacteria is to cook your food well,” said MysticDoc, a physician on JustAnswer. “Eating uncooked and raw food increases the risk of listeria infection.”
“A blood test will tell you if you have been infected with listeria,” said Nurse Schulyer A., noting that pregnant women are more susceptible. See this information sheet from the American Pregnancy Foundation.
Symptoms can include fever, muscle aches, nausea, and diarrhea a few days after eating contaminated food. For more about listeria infection (listeriosis), see this Mayo Clinic fact sheet.
Safety measures you can take
D’Acquisto recommended the following steps as precautions against listeria:
- Thoroughly cook all meats.
- Thoroughly wash all vegetables, especially when you are going to eat them raw.
- Keep meat and vegetables stored separately.
- Only use pasteurized dairy products.
- Thoroughly clean all utensils and cutting boards after use, and between meats and vegetables; use separate cutting boards for meat and other foods. Take special care that your cutting board and utensils used to handle foods to be eaten raw are clean before use.
- Clean your refrigerator once a week.
- Wash your hands frequently when preparing foods: before, during (between handling of different raw foods), and after you are finished.
For more tips on safe food handling, see FoodSafety.gov.