What You Need To Know About Listeria

Photo: Courtesy of Sabra.
First, listeria claimed our ice cream. Then it took our frozen lasagna. But, most recently, it came for our hummus. Now, it's personal.

Of course, we're thankful that we're more likely to experience frustration from the recalls than the illness. Here's what you need to know about listeria:

What is listeria?
Listeria (a.k.a. listeriosis) is an infection caused by eating food tainted with the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes. According to the most recent annual estimates from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 1,600 people get sick and 260 people die due to listeria infection every year. 

Infections cause the classic food poisoning bouts of vomiting and diarrhea along with fever and muscle aches. Although it can affect anyone, those who are most likely to get sick include young kids, pregnant women, and elderly adults. For them, listeriosis can be fatal in some cases.

Where is listeria found?
A report released last month by the CDC, the Food and Drug Administration, and the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service specified which foods are most likely to carry disease-causing bacteria. The investigators found that about half of listeria cases were traced back to fruit and another 30% stemmed from dairy products. 

The fruit data reflects a particularly large outbreak in 2011 (one of the largest listeriosis outbreaks in U.S. history, in fact) in which 128 people were infected after eating cantaloupe. But, listeria also played a role in four apple-related deaths just last year. And, of course, now there's Blue Bell.

How are infections treated?
If symptoms are mild, they'll usually resolve without special treatment. More severe cases usually require antibiotics. As we mentioned, people who are especially at risk for serious complications of listeriosis include pregnant women, newborns, older adults, and anyone with an already-weakened immune system. People in those categories often require quick treatment because the chance of death is greater.

How bad is the current outbreak?
First off, it's important to remember that the current Blue Bell outbreak really just concerns two clusters in two different states — Kansas and Texas. But, so far, three deaths have been connected to that outbreak.

Sabra and Amy's products were recalled voluntarily without any illnesses or deaths reported. So, even though it may seem like the problem is snowballing, companies seem to be doing what they can to prevent the bacteria getting to consumers. So, the best thing you can do is heed the advice from the CDC and the affected companies. Which means that, yes, we'll have to finally learn how to make our own hummus.
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