Listeriosis food recalls: food safety tips
April 23, 2015
BROOKINGS, S.D. – The recent recall of all Blue Bell Creamery products due to a multistate outbreak of Listeriosis demonstrates the importance of maintaining the safety of the food supply. While prevention, reduction and elimination of pathogens are the foundation for maintaining a safe food supply, SDSU Extension Food Safety Field Specialist Joan Hegerfeld-Baker identifies that food recalls and public reports (e.g. social media) serve as valuable additional tools to help assure food supply safety and consumer awareness.
Hegerfeld-Baker identifies that adequate pasteurization destroys Listeria and other pathogens that may be present in raw milk. Therefore, she describes two potential steps in the food chain where contamination could possibly occur: 1. Listeria from on-farm tainted milk followed by inadequate pasteurization or 2. Post-pasteurization contamination of milk or by other ingredients added to the ice cream. The FDA is conducting an open investigation to identify the source of contamination.
While authorities have not confirmed an immediate Listeriosis threat in South Dakota, Hegerfeld-Baker stressed the importance of using safe food handling practices to avoid infection from this pathogen.
Listeria monocytogenes is the species of Listeria associated with the foodborne disease Listeriosis. Hegerfeld-Baker describes the seriousness of Listeriosis since it is the third leading cause of death from food poisoning. Most people that develop the disease are hospitalized, and one in five cases leads to death. The high-risk group for Listeriosis is pregnant women, newborns, adults 65 and older and people with weakened immune systems.
Symptoms of Listeriosis typically are similar to those of many foodborne illnesses: fever, muscle aches, nausea, and diarrhea. Symptoms may occur weeks after consuming contaminated food. In addition, Listeria can cause miscarriages and infections of the nervous system. Hegerfeld-Baker points out that pregnant women are approximately 20 times more likely than other healthy adults to get Listeriosis, which can cause miscarriage, premature delivery, serious sickness, or death of a newborn baby.
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Foods most commonly implicated in a Listerosis outbreak include ready-to-eat foods that are stored in the refrigerator: deli meats and hot dogs, soft cheeses made with unpasteurized milk, meat spreads, smoked seafood and fresh sprouts. To complicate the situation further, Listeria can grow at refrigeration temperatures.
Listeria is destroyed by cooking and pasteurization. However, to protect against Listeriosis, consumers can exhibit several safe food handling practices to avoid an infection. Some key food safety strategies include: Not consuming unpasteurized milk or products that contain it; Washing hands, knives, countertops, and cutting boards after handling uncooked foods; and rinsing raw produce thoroughly before eating; keeping uncooked meats, poultry, and seafood separate from vegetables, fruits, cooked foods, and ready-to-eat foods.
When handling raw food from animal sources, it is also important to cook any meats, poultry, and seafood to a safe internal temperature, and carefully examine best-if-used-by or expiration dates and any pre-cooked meats and deli meats. Opened packages of luncheon meats should be consumed within three to five days. Recommended refrigeration storage times for unopened luncheon meat packages is two weeks (or refer to package expiration or use-by dates). Hegerfeld-Baker recommends that hot dogs, luncheon and deli meats be reheated to steaming hot or 165°F when served to high-risk populations.
The recent wide-spread food recall due to Listeriosis involves all products from the ice cream maker Blue Bell Creameries. The products include ice cream, frozen yogurt, sherbet and frozen snacks. The recall includes products from all of its manufacturing facilities. As of April 21, Blue Bell Creameries identified 23 states that distribute their products. South Dakota and the surrounding states of North Dakota, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska and Iowa were not on the list.
Consumers, retailers and food establishments should identify and remove any of the products from Blue Bell Creameries on the recall list. When checking the freezer for these products do not confuse Blue Bell Creameries with similar company names. This list can be obtained by contacting the company at 1.866-608.3940 or visiting the visit the FDA's Food Recall http://www.fda.gov/Safety/Recalls/default.htm and FoodSafety.gov websites.