LISTERIA 101

Posted on September 29, 2011

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The recent listeria outbreak has members of the health community worried…for good reason.  Although not as common as E. coli or salmonella, this pathogen has wreaked deadly havoc in the U.S.   In order to protect yourself, family, and friends, here are a few basic facts about listeria.

 What is listeria?

A bacteria found in soil and water.  This pathogen is regularly carried by animals.  Listeria is notably found in processed meat because the bacteria can contaminate processing facilities for long periods of time.  Listeria can also be found in unpasteurized dairy products.

 Listeria is not regularly found in cantaloupe, however, in recent years, there have been reported outbreaks in fruits and vegetables.

 Symptoms

Listeria can cause fever, muscle aches, and gastrointestinal problems.  Death is the most severe symptom of listeria.  The CDC estimates that around 260 people die each year from the bacteria.

 Who it affects?

Listeria is deadly to those with vulnerable and weak immune systems.  Thus, the worst effects of listeria are felt by the elderly, the very young, those with HIV/AIDS, cancer, diabetes, or other significant illnesses.  Pregnant women are especially susceptible.  Some figures estimate that pregnant women are 20x more likely than healthy adults to get listeria.  Listeria in pregnant women can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, or serious infections for the new baby.

 Listeria in healthy adults is not particularly deadly.  Symptoms closely resemble those of the flu with some cramping in the stomach.

 Treatment

Listeria is generally treated with antibiotics.

 The Cantaloupe

The infected cantaloupe of Jensen Farms may be labeled: Colorado Grown,” “Distributed by Frontera Produce,” “Jensenfarms.com” or “Sweet Rocky Fords.” It may also be labeled “USA.”

 What to do

The government motto should be followed and heeded….”When in doubt, throw it out.”  If you believe you have a contaminated cantaloupe, it is best to throw it out and clean all surfaces it may have touched.  It’s never a bad idea to wash all cantaloupes before eating, but keep in mind that this pathogen can easily hide in the rough and uneven skin of the fruit. Furthermore, slicing the contaminated skin can transfer the pathogen on the inside of the fruit.

 Keep in mind…

FDA and CDC officials said Wednesday that they expect the number of illnesses and even deaths to rise through October. Listeria has an incubation period of a month or more, so people who ate contaminated fruit last week may not see illnesses until next month.

 

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