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Food Poisoning – take it seriously!

Food Poisoning – take it seriously!

‘Food Poisoning – take it seriously!’- What foods to watch out for to avoid listeria infection

Each year an estimated 4.1 million people get food poisoning in Australia, 1 million Australians must visit a doctor with food poisoning, 32,000 people end up in hospital and 86 people die.

This year’s theme for Australian Food Safety Week being held 10th to 17th November 2018, is ‘Food Poisoning – take it seriously!’, with a focus on helping those who are at greater risk if they do get food poisoning such as pregnant women, the elderly and people with poor immune systems.

We need to remember that food poisoning isn’t just a minor stomach upset but it should be taken seriously as it can be fatal.

What is listeria?

Listeria monocytogenes (Listeria) is a foodborne disease-causing bacterium; the disease is called listeriosis. Listeria can invade the body through a normal and intact gastrointestinal tract. Once in the body, Listeria can travel through the blood stream, but the bacteria are often found inside cells. Listeria also produces toxins that damage cells.

Listeria invades and grows best in the central nervous system among immune compromised persons, causing meningitis and/or encephalitis (brain infection). In pregnant women, the foetus can become infected, leading to spontaneous abortion, stillbirths, or sepsis (blood infection) in infancy.

Listeria are bacteria that are widely found in the environment so most raw foods are likely to be contaminated. However, you don’t necessarily have to miss out on your favourite foods as Listeria is easily killed by appropriate cooking and correctly handling.

Who is at greatest risk of developing a listeria infection?

  • 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 to 70 years) 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 e.g. prednisone or cortisone

  • organ transplant patients.

Are you at greater risk of a serious Listeria infection?

Take the quiz HERE

What foods to watch out for to avoid Listeria infection:

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 paté or meat spreads.

All soft, semi soft and surface ripened cheeses e.g. brie, camembert, ricotta, feta and blue (pre-packaged and delicatessen), unpasteurised dairy products (e.g. raw milk or cheeses) and soft serve ice cream.

Pre-prepared or pre-packaged cut fruit and vegetable salads e.g. salads sold in bags or containers or from salad bars, shops or buffets, etc; pre-cut fruit and vegetables that will be eaten raw; frozen fruit or vegetables that may not be further cooked (e.g. berries, peas, sweet corn); rockmelon/cantaloupes (whole or cut); and bean or seed sprouts.

Raw seafood (e.g. oysters, sashimi or sushi); smoked ready-to-eat seafood; ready-to-eat peeled prawns (cooked) e.g. in prawn cocktails, sandwich fillings; and prawn or seafood salads; and seafood extender.

The symptoms of Listeria infection are mild and often are described as ‘flu-like’, although vomiting and diarrhoea can occur. If a pregnant woman is infected, it can lead to miscarriage, premature birth or the still birth of her baby even if she doesn’t show the symptoms. For the elderly or those with impaired immune systems the consequences can also be more detrimental.

The time from infection to symptoms can be anywhere between 3 days and 3 months.

It is important to maintain a healthy and varied diet if you are pregnant, elderly or immune compromised, we recommend you also talk to your GP or other suitable accredited health professional about how to eat well while avoiding foods at risk of Listeria.


Food Safety Information Council

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