Older Adults and Pregnant Women Reminded to Heat Deli Meats to Prevent Listeriosis

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is reminding certain populations of the risk of eating luncheon meats and hot dogs that could be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes bacteria. Those at greatest risk include adults over the age of 50 and pregnant women.

Unlike some bacteria that commonly contaminate food, listeria is not inhibited by cold temperatures and will continue to reproduce. But it is susceptible to heat, so the CDC is recommending that foods commonly contaminated with listeria, such as deli meats, be heated to at least 165 degrees F.

Listeriosis is a less common food-borne illness as compared to salmonellosis or E.coli infection, but because it can be extremely deadly, the CDC calls it a “major public health concern.” In the United States, an estimated 1,600 people become seriously ill with listeriosis each year and of these, 260 die.

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Listeria monocytogenes is found in soil and water. Animals can carry the bacterium without appearing ill and can contaminate other foods, including meat and dairy products. It can also affect foods during processing and preparation. Unpasteurized milk and cheeses are particularly likely to carry listeria bacteria.

Those at greatest risk for invasive disease, meaning that the bacteria has spread beyond the gastrointestinal tract, are older adults, pregnant women, newborns and adults with weakened immune systems. Pregnant women, for example, are about 20 times more likely than other healthy adults to get listeriosis, which increases the risk of miscarriage, premature delivery, stillbirth, or life-threatening infection of the newborn.

To reduce the risk of listeriosis, the CDC recommends that those at increased risk avoid all hot dogs, luncheon meats, cold cuts, or sausages unless they are heated to an internal temperature of 165 degrees F or “steaming hot”. During preparation, people should be especially careful not to get fluid from the meat packaging on other foods that are raw or already cooked or on utensils, serving plates, or food preparation surfaces. Opened packages of deli meats should be thrown out within five days, regardless of the package expiration date.

High-risk individuals are also advised against eating soft cheeses such as feta, queso blanco, or brie unless it is labeled as being made with pasteurized milk. Refrigerated smoked seafood should also be avoided unless cooked.

Even those at low-risk are advised to take precautions against Listeria monocytogenes bacteria infection. Thoroughly cook raw food from animal sources to a safe internal temperature and keep uncooked meats and poultry separate from vegetables and from cooked and ready-to-eat foods. Rinse raw vegetables thoroughly under running tap water before eating. Ensure hands, knives, countertops and cutting boards are washed well after handling and preparing uncooked foods.

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