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Preventing Food Poisoning- Listeria

09/10/2013 - 2:43 pm by: Margret Leslie

Eating foods that contain Listeria does not cause illness in most people.

Who is most at risk?

Pregnant women, newborns, people over 70 and those with weakened immune systems.

How common is it?

There are typically twenty to thirty cases of listeriosis reported each year in NSW.

Although listeriosis is rare, it has a high death rate.

What are the symptoms?

The incubation period (the time between infection and symptoms) can vary from three to 70 days but on average is about three weeks. Infections can cause septicaemia (blood poisoning), meningitis (inflammation of the brain) and miscarriage in pregnant women.

Symptoms include fever, muscle aches and sometimes gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea and diarrhoea.

In the more severe form, symptoms also include collapse and shock. If infection spreads to the central nervous system, symptoms such as headache, stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance, convulsions and coma can occur. About a third of these patients could die.

Infection during pregnancy can lead to premature delivery (abortion), infection of the newborn, and stillbirth.

What are the causes?

Most cases have been traced to ready-to-eat (RTE) foods, including pre-cooked chicken, sliced deli meats, pâté, processed meat paste, smoked salmon, shellfish products, soft and surface ripened cheeses and prepacked raw vegetables and fruit.

Because it can grow in refrigerators in temperatures as low as 1°C, controlling L. monocytogenes can be more difficult than other foodborne pathogens. It can grow in

wet areas of food processing environments, such as floors and drains. It can grow in vacuum-packed products. It can spread by aerosols, factory personnel and transport vehicles, and is difficult to eradicate.

L. monocytogenes is killed by normal cooking temperatures and during pasteurisation of milk.

However, it can survive freezing and is resistant to high levels of salt.

How can the risk of infection be minimised?

·       Thoroughly cook raw food from animal sources such as beef, lamb, pork, or poultry

·       Wash raw vegetables and fruit thoroughly before eating

·       Keep raw meat separate from vegetables, cooked foods, and ready-to-eat foods.

·       Use separate cutting boards for raw meat and foods that are ready-to-eat (for example,

·       cooked foods and salads)

·       Wash hands thoroughly before and after preparing food

·       Wash knives and cutting boards thoroughly in warm, soapy water after preparing uncooked

·       foods

·       Wash hands after handling animals

Prevention is the most important control measure for foods which support the growth of the bacteria.

·       Pregnant women and other susceptible groups should not consume ‘high risk’ foods that can support the growth of L. monocytogenes.

·       This includes most chilled, ready to eat foods:

·       Soft cheese such as brie, blue, fetta, camembert and ricotta. These are only safe if

·       cooked hot

·       Takeaway cooked and chilled diced chicken

·       Cold meats, pâté and other meat spreads

·       Pre-prepared or packaged salads greens and salads

·       Raw seafood such as oysters, sashimi, smoked salmon or oysters (tinned oysters are safe)

·       Unpasteurised dairy products such as raw goat’s milk and Roquefort cheese

·       Sushi and sandwiches that contain any of the foods listed above

Within the factory environment,

it is essential to control the movement of produce and personnel to avoid cross-

contamination between raw produce and finished produce.

Floors, walls and drains need to be kept clean and a disinfectant regularly applied to avoid build-up of bacteria. Air movement and aerosols must also be controlled. Critical control points such as cooking/heating temperatures, equipment cleaning and sanitation and specific product washing techniques must be monitored effectively.

Do not

allow the blood from raw meat to come into contact with other food.


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