AUSTRALIANS are risking sickness and even death by being woefully ignorant of a dangerous food infection.
Research has shown one in three Australians are either at risk of getting the potentially fatal listeria infection or live in a household with someone at risk. However, a third of these have never heard of listeria and some can’t name any of the foods they need to avoid or cook to prevent listeria infection.
“This is a timely reminder that food poisoning isn’t just a minor stomach upset but it should be taken seriously as it can be deadly,” said Food Safety Information Council chairwoman Rachelle Williams.
“The listeria outbreak linked to Australian rockmelons earlier this year resulted in seven tragic deaths and a miscarriage. This was followed by a recall of imported frozen vegetables which was linked to 47 listeriosis cases and nine deaths in Europe and one death in Australia.”
While disease caused by listeria infection is a comparatively rare form of illness, it can be a very serious for:
- Pregnant women and their unborn babies
- People who have diabetes, cancer or suppressed immune systems due to other chronic diseases such as leukaemia, HIV, diabetes, liver or kidney disease, cirrhosis or ulcerative colitis
- Older people (generally considered to be over 65-70) depending on their state of health and especially if they have an underlying health issue like those above
- People taking a medicine that suppresses their immune system (eg prednisone or cortisone)
- Organ transplant patients
Easily killed by cooking
Listeria are bacteria widely found in the environment, so most raw foods are likely to be contaminated.
However, listeria is easily killed by cooking so, for example, you can add ham to a pizza, feta to a quiche or smoked salmon to fully cooked scrambled eggs. Just remember that cooked foods can easily become re-contaminated through poor food handling after cooking.
For foods that can’t be cooked you can make other choices such as using fresh whole lettuce for salads rather than bagged lettuce.
If you are at risk of listeria infection you need to avoid, or where possible cook, the following foods:
- Unpackaged ready to eat meats from delicatessen counters and sandwich bars; packaged, sliced ready-to-eat meats; cold cooked chicken purchased ready to eat, whole, diced or sliced and refrigerated pate or meat spreads
- All soft, semi-soft and surface ripened cheeses such as brie, camembert, ricotta, feta and blue (pre-packaged and delicatessen), unpasteurised dairy products (raw milk or cheeses) and soft-serve ice cream
- Pre-prepared or pre-packaged cut fruit and vegetable salads, such as those sold in bags or containers or from salad bars, shops or buffet; pre-cut fruit and vegetables that will be eaten raw; frozen fruit or vegetables that may not be further cooked (berries, peas, sweet corn); rockmelon/cantaloupes (whole or cut); and bean or seed sprouts
- Raw seafood (such as oysters, sashimi or sushi); smoked ready-to-eat seafood; ready-to-eat peeled prawns (cooked) as in prawn cocktails, sandwich fillings and prawn or seafood salads; and seafood extender.
To reduce your risk of listeria and other forms of food poisoning:
- Always wash your hands with soap and running water and dry thoroughly before handling food. Keep food utensils and cooking areas clean
- Unlike most other food poisoning bacteria, listeria can grow at refrigeration temperatures, so ready-to-eat food or leftovers should never be stored in the fridge for more than 24 hours. Listeria will only grow very slowly at cold temperatures so make sure your refrigerator is keeping your food at or less than 5°C
- Avoid refrigerated foods that are past their use-by date
- Refrigerate leftovers promptly and use within 24 hours or freeze
- Always look for cooking and storage instructions on the food package label and follow them when provided
- Cook high risk foods such as poultry, minced meat, sausages, hamburgers and leftovers to 75°C
- Cook egg dishes, such as quiche, to 72°C in the centre (or until the white is firm and the yolk thickens)
- Cook frozen fruit and vegetables.
For more information about listeria see here
There is an estimated 4.1 million cases of food poisoning in Australia each year resulting in 31,920 hospitalisations, 86 deaths and one million visits to doctors.