Don’t you just love spreading out a picnic in the park and making your own sandwich? Or, how about those trays of deli meat sandwiches brought into your office during meetings?
Well, there might be something lurking beyond that ham and cheese. You may be getting more than just the mayonnaise and mustard spread on that crunchy bread roll–you may also be getting a side of listeria.
Listeria monocytogenes is a bacteria that can cause a listeriosis–the name given to the general groups of disorders caused by this bacteria–and grows on your lunch meat…even in the refrigerator.
Although Listeria is most often associated with lunch meats (your basic picnic “cold cuts”), it is also found in raw milk, soft cheeses (like bries, Camembert, queso blanco and others), ice cream, raw vegetables, fermented raw-meat sausages, raw and cooked poultry, raw meats (all types), and raw and smoked fish.
Pritzker Law reports that the “incubation period for a Listeria infection is generally between 11 and 70 days, meaning a person could eat Listeria-contaminated food and not get sick for two months.”
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, listeriosis includes mild-to-severe “flu-like” and gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, severe headache, fever, diarrhea and extreme stiff neck.
Serious manifestations of listeriosis include septicemia, meningitis and encephalitis.
Listeriosis can be fatal for pregnant women, the fetus–causing spontaneous abortions or stillbirth–and high-risk and immunocompromised individuals such as children, the elderly and HIV and cancer treatment patients.
So, how do you avoid contracting Listeria-related diseases?
In a meat recall release, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) recommended the following:
1. Use separate areas for cutting or working with meat, fish and eggs. Wash your hands and the space immediately before and after handling them.
2. Heat all hot dogs, luncheon meats, bologna or other deli meats until “steaming hot.”
3. Avoid meat spreads from the deli counter, refrigerated pâté, and refrigerated smoked seafood.
4. Avoid raw, unpasteurized milk and foods that contain it.
5. Never purchase ham salad, chicken salad, egg salad, tuna salad or seafood salad from the deli section at the store.
6. Do not eat soft cheeses unless they are made with pasteurized milk. Soft cheeses include: Feta, queso blanco, queso fresco, Brie, Camembert, blue-veined cheeses (“blue cheese”) and Panela.
7. Use lunch meats within a few days of purchase.
If you are exhibiting symptoms and have ingested possible Listeria-containing foods in the past few weeks, it is recommended that you contact your health care provider immediately.