Latest news: A major, multistate outbreak of the food-borne bacteria listeria (resulting from contaminated cantaloupe) occurred last summer and fall, resulting in 29 deaths and 139 people being sickened.
Potential dangers: Eating food contaminated with listeria can cause a bacterial disease called listeriosis. It feels like the flu, with symptoms such as fever, headache, and nausea. It's rare, but foods that are likely to carry it include fruits and vegetables that come into contact with contaminated soil or surfaces, unpasteurized milk, soft cheeses, undercooked poultry or meat, ready-to-eat meats such as hotdogs and deli cold cuts, refrigerated pates, and seafood. Unlike most other food-borne bacteria, listeriosis multiplies in food that's been contaminated once it's refrigerated.
Most healthy people who eat food contaminated with listeria get a mild illness (fever, abdominal pain, and diarrhea) or even no symptoms at all, but it can cause a more serious infection in some people.
How it affects you: Women who are pregnant (as well as newborns, the elderly, and the sick) are at a greater risk of contracting listeriosis because of their compromised immune systems. In fact, listeriosis is about 20 times more common in pregnant women than the general population. It can cause miscarriage in pregnant women, and if an expectant mother transmits the disease to her baby, it could lead to a stillbirth. Or the baby could develop sepsis (a blood infection) or encephalitis (an inflammation of the brain). Listeriosis can be treated with antibiotics, but you should nonetheless take these precautions during pregnancy to protect yourself and your baby:
*Wash all fruits and vegetables under running water with a soft brush, even if the items are to be peeled. Make sure to sanitize brush, work surface, and your hands before and after washing.
- Avoid soft cheeses such as feta, Brie, Camembert, and Mexican-style cheese.
- Cook leftover foods or ready-to-eat foods (such as hotdogs and deli meats) until steaming hot before eating.
- Cook raw meat, poultry, and seafood thoroughly. Chicken should be cooked until the center reaches 165 degrees.
- Don't eat uncooked fish including smoked trout, sushi, sashimi, or ceviche.