Thursday, July 11, 2013


If you are pregnant, or ever have been pregnant, you have probably heard of Listeria bacteria as something to really avoid in food. Actually, it is just one of the Listeria family that is deadly - Listeria monocytogenes. This tiny bacterium is not just very dangerous to pregnant women, but to newborn babies, people over age 60, and anyone with reduced immunity.

L. monocytogenes is most likely to be found in ready-to-eat foods, such as deli meats, cheeses, hot dogs, smoked seafood and store-prepared deli-salads and sandwiches. It causes food contamination not just in the U.S. - but all over the world. Often the source of the problem is food plant workers carrying the bacterium, or contaminated equipment or facilities.

But it can turn up almost anywhere - including in some unexpected places. For instance, in November, 2012, Listeria turned up in chocolate cake, leading to a recall by the big supermarket Publix of chocolate cake. A month earlier, it turned up in flavored snacks such as popcorn, leading to a recall by Dale and Thomas Popcorn of Englewood, N.J. In February of 2013, the bacterium turned up in sprouted seeds. The recall by Sprouters Northwest of Kent, Washington, included broccoli, clover, spicy sprouts, 3-Bean Munchies, Brocco Sandwich Sprouts, Alfalfa Sprouts, Bean Sprouts, Broccoli Sprouts, Clover Sprouts, Deli Sprouts, Spicy Sprouts, Wheatgrass and Pea Shoots.

More recently, Listeria turned up in the U.S. in snacks again. Lipari Foods of Warren, Michigan recalled some 52 different snack foods such as Raw Sunflower Seeds, Roasted Sunflower Seeds and Snack Mixes because they might be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes. The company investigation concluded that the culprit was bulk raw sunflower seeds. These sunflower seeds had not only been used in a variety of snack mixes but might also have lead to cross contamination to a large range of snack mix products (such as banana chips, crystallized ginger, chocolate almonds and many more) during production.

So if you are in a high risk group, how can you avoid Listeriosis? It is almost impossible to avoid the "odd" places, such as snacks and cakes. But, you certainly would be wise to avoid deli meats and seafood - unless you cook them until they are steaming hot, make sure any barbecued hot dogs you eat are very well cooked, don't eat sprouted seeds, and take it easy on cheese. Remember too that Listeria bacteria can survive and multiply in your refrigerator, contaminate it and spread from one food to another.

Listeria monocytogenes is no joke. It can cause miscarriages and stillbirths, can make vulnerable people very ill and can even be fatal to adults. If you are at high risk - be careful.

To your good health,


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