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How to protect from listeria infection

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

Listeria, like any food borne bacteria can spread in the kitchen.There are steps you can take to minimize the chances of listeria infection and sickness from other food borne germs.


The recent outbreak of listeria, linked to cantaloupe, is the largest since 1998 and has killed 15 people, and sickened 84 others, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Listeriosis is a bacterial infection caused by Listeria monocytogenes.

Symptoms usually occur two months after exposure to listeria, which are flu-like. In severe cases, listeria can lead to meningititis and septicemia (blood poisoning). Infection with the bacteria could lead to death, especially in people with existing medical conditions.

The FDA offers advice on how you can protect yourself from listeria. Unlike other bacteria, listeria can grow in the refrigerator.

Keep food separated and wipe up spills

Keep food covered and separated to avoid juice and other food liquids from leaking onto other foods.

Clean up spills as soon as they happen. Use warm water and liquid soap, followed by a rinse. Use a paper towel that can be discarded to eliminate the possibility of spreading listeria from a cloth.

Disinfect the refrigerator to avoid listeria

Once a month, clean the inside of the refrigerator with a commercial sanitizer or a mixture of 1 teaspoon of bleach to one quart of water. Make a fresh bleach solution each time you clean.

Put a large amount of bleach solution on the refrigerator shelves and let it stand for 10 minutes. Rinse with water and pat the shelves dry with paper towels. You should also clean the walls with sanitizer or bleach. Use the same procedure to keep kitchen surfaces clean.

Soap and water keeps food germs at bay

Cutting boards should be washed with warm soap water after each use. Acrylic, glass or plastic types can be cleaned in the dishwasher. You can also wash dishrags, cloth grocery bags and towels in the dishwasher, using hot water.

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According to Donald Zink, Ph.D, senior science advisor at FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, "If you have leftovers in your refrigerator, it’s best to throw them out after three days, just to be sure. It's better to be safe than sorry."

The FDA also recommends eating precooked and ready meals as soon as possible to prevent listeria infection.
Keep the refrigerator cold.

It’s also important to check refrigerator temperature regularly, keeping it at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or less, which can slow the rate of listeria growth.

A thermometer in the freezer and refrigerator should be used to ensure proper temperature. Keep things as cold as possible without freezing.

Focus on hand washing before and after food handling

Hand washing is also important to protect from listeria. The FDA advises washing before and after handling food. Wash with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds to avoid listeria or other food borne infections in the kitchen.

Wash fruits and vegetables

It’s important to wash fruits and vegetables under running water, even those are peeled. For melons, cucumbers and other firm vegetables, use a clean brush for scrubbing off bacteria.

Listeria is especially dangerous for people who are elderly, infants, those with chronic illnesses such as diabetes, kidney disease, compromised immunity and transplant patients. Listeriosis can also cause stillbirth, miscarriage and serious illness in newborns.

Wash your hands, clean up spills promptly and maintain a clean, disinfected kitchen to avoid listeria infection and other food borne germs that could lead to serious illness and death.

Image credit: Morguefile

Resources: CDC, FDA.gov, Keep Listeria out of your kitchen.