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What is listeria?

Listeria infection is a food-borne bacterial infection that can be dangerous for pregnant women and people with weakened immune system. The most common way of contracting listeria infection is by eating improperly processed deli meats and unpasteurized milk and dairy products.

Even if they are exposed to listeria, healthy people rarely develop the infection, which, however, can be very dangerous and even fatal for unborn babies and infants. Listeria infection can successfully be treated with antibiotics if it is caught in time.

After contracting the bacteria, the symptoms may start from couple of days to couple of months. People who fall ill with listeria infection can expect symptoms like fever, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle ache and fatigue. If the bacteria spreads to the nervous system, the symptoms may include headache, stiff neck, confusion, problems with banace and convulsions.

In pregnant women, the symptoms of listeria may be very mild or even unnoticeable. However, the effects of the infection on the unborn baby can be fatal.

Prevention of listeria

Simple food safety guidelines should be enough when it comes to prevention of listeria. Hands should be washed with soap and warm water before handling or preparing the food. The kitchen counter, all the surfaces, the shelves in the refrigerator, the utensils, cutting boards and such should be perfectly clean.

Raw vegetables should be scrubbed with a brush under clear running water. All foods, especially meat, poultry, fish and eggs must be cooked thoroughly. Using a food thermometer is a good way to know when the right temperature is reached.

People who are at higher risk of listeria, such as pregnant women and people with compromised immune system should take extra measures of precaution for listeria. They should avoid soft cheeses and Mexican-style cheeses, especially if the packaging does not state clearly that the cheese is made from pasteurized milk.

Hot dogs, deli meats and luncheon meats should be avoided unless they are either just cooked or reheated until steaming hot. Meat and eggs should be kept separately in the fridge, preferably in a sealed plastic bag. Refrigerated meat spreads and pates should be avoided, while canned and shell-stable ones are acceptable. The same goes for refrigerated smoked seafood, unless it is used for casserole or other cooked dishes.

These precaution steps are necessary because listeria cannot survive high temperatures but it can survive on low ones, like in refrigerator or even in the freezer.

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