Avoid food poisoning by keeping listeria under control


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By Sandra Arango-Fahmy, M.D.

Ice cream and octopus salad, hummus and organic mangoes were just a few foods recalled by the Food and Drug Administration in New Jersey during the past year due to listeria contamination.

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Listeria, or listeriosis, is a serious infection usually caused by eating food contaminated with the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Most children and adults rarely become seriously ill. Listeria primarily affects older adults, pregnant women, newborns and adults with weakened immune systems, resulting in severe illness and even death.

Symptoms of a listeria infection include fever, headache, muscle aches or stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea. Treatment includes antibiotics and supportive medical care.

Most people can avoid the risk of listeria by following proper food handling and preparation and avoiding high-risk foods such as raw vegetables and fruits, uncooked meats, packaged and processed meats (for example, hot dogs or deli meats), smoked seafood, soft cheeses and unpasteurized milk/dairy products.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides the following guidelines to reduce the risk of listeria:

• Rinse and dry raw produce thoroughly.

• Scrub firm produce, such as melons and cucumbers, with a clean produce brush.

• Separate uncooked meats and poultry from vegetables, cooked foods and ready-to-eat foods.

• Wash hands, knives, countertops and cutting boards after handling and preparing uncooked foods.

• Be aware that Listeria monocytogenes can grow in foods in the refrigerator. Refrigerator temperatures should be 40 F or lower and the freezer 0 F or lower.

• Clean up all spills in your refrigerator right away — especially juices from hot dog and lunch meat packages, raw meat and raw poultry.

• Clean the inside walls and shelves of your refrigerator with hot water and liquid soap and then rinse.

• Thoroughly cook raw meats to a safe internal temperature. Use precooked or ready-to-eat food as soon as you can.

• Do not store the product in the refrigerator beyond the use-by date.

• Divide leftovers into shallow containers to promote rapid, even cooling. Cover with airtight lids or enclose in plastic wrap or aluminum foil. Use leftovers within three to four days.

• Do not drink raw (unpasteurized) milk, and do not eat foods that contain unpasteurized milk.

Sandra Arango-Fahmy, M.D., is on staff at Bay Family Medicine, affiliated with Raritan Bay Medical Center, a member of the Meridian Health family. The Bay Family Medicine physicians are board-certified and provide comprehensive health care for the whole family. Bay Family Medicine is located at 26 Throckmorton Lane, Old Bridge. To schedule an appointment, call 732-360-0287.

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