Listeria Infection - The Cause and How to Prevent It?

Listeria infection is a type of disease caused by Listeria monocytogenes. 

For the past few years, the bacterium has caused hundreds of food product recalls, hospital visits and deaths. 

In the Philippines, Listeria infections cause thousands of illnesses and hundreds of deaths every year. 

What are the causes of Listeria infection? 

Typically, eating contaminated foods can cause it. The bacterium lives in soil and water. Thus, it’s possible that vegetables can be contaminated by this harmful organism when they’re grown in contaminated soil. 

Consuming meat products contaminated with Listeria can cause this infection to occur. 

Even if the meat products come from animals that don’t show symptoms of this disease, you can still get infected. That’s particularly true if the meat isn't well-cooked. 

You can also get infected when you eat food made from unpasteurized milk. 

What are the symptoms of Listeria infection? 

When you consume a contaminated food, the bacterium travels to your gastrointestinal and the blood stream. The bacteria that cause this disease can infect cells. 

Your nervous system is the favourite place that Listeria invades. It can grow there causing meningitis or encephalitis. 

Listeria monocytogenes tricks your body by hiding in your cells. Thus, it can easily travel from one cell to another without having to leave its intracellular environment. 

As a result of that, it makes it difficult for your immune system to attack the infection. 

The bacteria carry potent toxins that they can release and cause significant harm to your body. 

But if you’re healthy, the infection can cause undesirable symptoms, like fever, chills, vomiting and upset stomach. 

However, if you have weak immune system, listeria infection can be very dangerous. In early 2016, there was an outbreak of Listeria infection that affected mostly adults ages 81 and above. 

This infection is dangerous to pregnant women because they have special proteins in their body that can assist the bacteria to cross the placental barrier, which protects the baby from germs found in the mother’s blood. 

When you’re infected with Listeria monocytogenes while you’re pregnant, the infection can cause miscarriage, stillbirth or premature delivery. This infection is also life-threatening for the newborn. 

How to prevent Listeria infection? 

The best way to prevent it is to prepare your food carefully. To avoid the bacteria, you must only eat well-cooked meat. 

You should refrigerate cooked foods immediately or at least within two hours of preparing it. 

To minimise the risk of drinking contaminated milk, you should only consume dairy products made from pasteurised milk. 

Also, you must also consume meat that’s cooked at a factory within two weeks. The meat can be contaminated after cooking. 

When handling your food, you must wash your hands with warm soapy water. Most importantly, don’t use the same knife when cutting vegetables after you cut uncooked meat. It’s also the same with cutting board. 

Listeria monocytogenes can grow in your refrigerator. Thus, you should be cautious when storing foods that might be contaminated. 

Before eating fruits and vegetables, you must wash them first with cold, running water. Then, sanitize the areas where you prepare the food and throw away any leftovers four days after they’re prepared. If you need to reheat leftovers, you must heat it to 74 Celsius. 

Image Source: Listeria Infection


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