Every month, it seems that another food gets pulled from the grocery shelves because of listeria. You may have even heard warnings about infection during pregnancy, but you don’t know exactly what all the concern is about. With all the other health risks out there, should you really worry about yet another infection? Yes, you should, and here’s why.
The Most Recent Recall
While many different companies have recalled food products because of listeria, one of the most recent is the Marketside frozen pizza recall. Specifically, the RBR Meat Company, Inc., has raised concern for the Marketside Extra Large Supreme Pizza. In total, over 6,500 frozen pizzas may have been exposed to listeria, creating huge concern about consumer’s safety.
The company sold these pizzas to Walmart stores in Washington, Utah, California, and Nevada before alerting concern over possible contamination. This recall is only one of several that have happened already in 2017, and you will probably see many more.
Why exactly should you watch out for listeria contamination? Listeria itself is a type of bacteria found in soil and certain animals such as cows and poultry. It contaminates many meats and dairy products and can also live in food processing plants. Since the bacteria can actually survive the cold temperatures of a refrigerator, thorough cooking and pasteurization are the best methods of killing it.
The Dangers of Listeria
Aren’t there all kinds of bacteria out there that can harm you? Because listeria can live in cold temperatures, these particular bacteria are especially dangerous. If you’ve been infected by listeria, you may experience fever, diarrhea, muscle aches, and nausea. If the infection spreads, you may notice headache, loss of balance, a stiff neck, or confusion.
In the most extreme cases, those infected can suffer a deadly blood infection or meningitis. Every year, over 250 people die from infection by listeria.
Although many people don’t notice the mild symptoms when exposed to the bacteria, some people cannot fight it off so easily. If you have a weak immune system, are over sixty years old, or are pregnant, you could contract a listeria infection more easily than would a healthy adult. Again, if listeria goes unnoticed for too long, it can turn into a deadly infection.
The Risks during Pregnancy
By now, I hope you see how dangerous listeria can be. Unfortunately, the effects of an infection can worsen for pregnant women. In fact, pregnant women are 20 times more likely to get listeria than other healthy adults, making them extremely vulnerable when eating foods that carry the bacteria.
If a pregnant woman does contract listeria, they will most likely experience mild, flu-like symptoms, and their bodies will fight off the infection fairly easily. On the other hand, the baby will often develop serious health issues that could lead to infant death. Many times, the pregnancy will end in a tragic miscarriage or stillbirth.
To avoid infection, you should take great care to clean all areas used in handling uncooked meats. Also, be sure to cook the meat thoroughly and keep it separate from any raw fruits and vegetables. Especially if you have a high risk of getting listeria, you should heat up lunch meats or any other refrigerated meat before eating it.
Since listeria can also live in the soil, you should thoroughly wash all raw vegetables in running water before eating them. In addition, be sure to clean all knives and utensils used to prepare the raw vegetables as well.
Finally, under no circumstances should you consume raw (unpasteurized) milk and any dairy products made with raw milk. These raw dairy products include soft cheeses such as feta, brie, and queso fresco. Many people today feel that raw dairy has more nutritional quality than pasteurized dairy, but the risk of listeria certainly outweighs these benefits. Consuming raw dairy products is simply not worth the risk.
Every year, many people get infected with listeria. This infection can lead to complications, especially for pregnant women and their babies. Please take the steps needed to avoid listeria by washing raw meats and produce and cooking food thoroughly. If you do, you’ll be protecting your family from a potentially harmful infection, keeping them safe and sound.
Dr. Manny Alvarez serves as Fox News Channel's senior managing health editor. He also serves as chairman of the department of obstetrics/gynecology and reproductive science at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey. For more information on Dr. Manny's work, visit AskDrManny.com.