Why The Hummus Recall Is Especially Bad News For Pregnant People

Photographed by Erin Yamagata.
If you haven't already heard, we're sorry to be the ones to tell you that your precious hummus stash may need to be thrown into the trash. Specifically, Sabra-brand hummus (in many flavors) has been voluntarily recalled for possible contamination with the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes, or listeria for short. (But, to be totally clear, although traces of the bacteria have been found in the manufacturing facility, it hasn't been found in the actual products.)

Eating contaminated food is not a good idea for anyone, but listeria infection, in particular, poses unique risks to those who are or who are trying to become pregnant, which is something not enough people realize.

For most of us, a listeria infection — a.k.a. listeriosis — comes with flu-like symptoms, including muscle aches and fever alongside tummy troubles. If it's mild, the infection will usually go away on its own. But if it's more serious, doctors will prescribe antibiotics.

Young, healthy adults aren't usually those who get the worst of it. Instead, it's older adults, people with already-weakened immune systems, and pregnant people who are most likely to be infected — and who suffer the most serious cases. For those who are pregnant especially, the consequences can be pretty scary: miscarriage, stillbirth, and preterm birth can all be caused by listeriosis.

Plus, there's a chance the fetus may develop an infection, too. “Not only are pregnant women especially susceptible to listeriosis infections," explained Jeffrey L. Ecker, MD, of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) in a 2014 statement, "but because the infection may spread into and across the placenta, infection also puts their fetus at significant risk.”

The good news is that ACOG has specific guidelines for those caring for people who may have been exposed to the bacteria during pregnancy (through hummus, ice cream, or any other contaminated foods).

First off, if you don't have any symptoms, you don't need any treatment — you don't even need to be tested. If you do develop symptoms, treatment depends on how serious they are. For instance, if you have a high fever, an intense round of IV antibiotics is recommended.

But, to put this in perspective, listeriosis is still a rare occurrence (in the U.S. there are approximately 1,600 cases per year). And you're less likely to be exposed to listeria if you follow a few basic prevention and food-safety tips — in addition to keeping track of recalls like the Sabra hummus one. The FDA recommends, for instance, that we make sure our refrigerators are clean and actually cold (at or below 40 degrees Fahrenheit). Also, remember that consuming raw milk (and cheeses made with unpasteurized milk) puts you at high risk for exposure to listeria and other potentially harmful bacteria.
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