Saturday, February 4, 2017


If you have read The Safe Food Handbook (my book, not this blog) you will probably guess that one of my favorite agents of food poisoning is the tiny bacterium Listeria monocytogenes. It is believed to be the third leading cause of death from food poisoning in the United States.

Listeria turns up on a regular basis in our processed foods and in restaurant meals. Recently, it was suspected in Ruth's Pimento Spread, which is distributed in Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia.

This blog has often highlighted how dangerous the Listeria bacterium is for pregnant women, that is, for their unborn child (causing miscarriages and stillbirths). But today I want to touch on how dangerous it is for older adults and anyone else with a weakened immune system (such as those receiving cancer therapy).

As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states, more than half of all Listeria infections occur in people age 65 and older. Why? The CDC points to the fact that as we age our immune system and organs aren’t as good at recognizing and ridding our body of harmful germs as they used to be. Chronic conditions such as diabetes and cancer also tend to occur more in people who are older and also weaken the immune system. Add to this the fact that as we age, our whole body, including our digestive system, tends to become more sluggish and ineffective, allowing pathogens such as Listeria monocytogenes to multiply and cause us more harm.

I suspect it also had something to do with the fact that older people who still live independently tend to eat more processed "easy" foods such as Ruth's Pimento Spread, which is a typical place for this nasty bacterium to hide.


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