With Listeria back in the news this week we wanted to explain in more detail what Listeria is, who it affects and how we could reduce the risk of it. Food manufacturers across the country regularly check production environments for the bacterium so they can protect consumers from harm.
Here are the most common questions people ask about Listeria:
What is Listeria?
The full term for Listeria is Listeria monocytogenes. Listeria is a bacterium that causes an illness called listeriosis. It is very rare to see illnesses from listeria. In most people, it can cause mild symptoms e.g. fever, vomiting and diarrhoea. However, it can cause serious symptoms and even death for certain groups of vulnerable people.
Who is at risk?
The people more at risk of getting ill from Listeria are:
- Elderly people
- Newborn babies
- Pregnant women and their unborn babies
- People with weakened immune systems, such as those suffering from cancer
How does it spread?
Listeria can be found in different types of food. It is more common in refrigerated ready-to-eat foods that do not need further cooking. Further cooking would act as extra protection to destroy the bacteria. Mostly found in the following foods:
- Cooked sliced meats
- Prepared sandwiches & salads
- Cured meats & smoked fish
- Cooked shellfish
- Mould-ripened soft cheeses e.g. Brie and Camembert
How do I reduce the risk at home?
Luckily there are several things you can do to reduce the risk when preparing food at home:
- Keep chilled ready-to-eat foods cold
- Make sure your fridge is working properly and set to 5⁰C or below
- Don’t eat food past their use-by date
- Follow the storage instructions on the food label
- Use opened refrigerated food within two days (unless instructions on the packaging say otherwise)
- Cook or reheat foods until they are piping hot all the way through
- Keep ready-to-use and raw foods separate
- Always wash fruit and vegetables thoroughly especially if eating them raw
How do I protect my consumers?
Special attention is needed when cleaning and sanitising in food processing areas, particularly on conveyor belts and equipment. Continuous sampling of these food plant environments for Listeria is extremely necessary. This gives facilities an early warning that there might be a problem. The following products are recommended for use across the food industry:
These tests contain a chromogenic liquid media formulated with antibiotics, growth enhancers, and colour-changing compounds specific to the Listeria species. To use, simply swab the test area and incubate for 24-48 hours in a digital dry block incubator.