Listeria Infection and the Food We Eat

Birds In Love (Dr. Noorali Bharwani)
Birds In Love (Dr. Noorali Bharwani)

On July 19, 2014, Wawona Packing Company of Cutler, California voluntarily recalled certain lots of whole peaches (white and yellow), nectarines (white and yellow), plums and pluots packed between June 1, 2014 and July 12, 2014 due to the potential for contamination of the products with Listeria monocytogenes.

This was a precautionary action. Reports indicate to date, no illnesses have been linked to this recall. The health providers are advised to keep Listeria in mind when anybody presents with symptoms such as high fever, severe headache, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea.

Patients presenting with these symptoms should be asked if they have been exposed to Wawona Packing Co.’s fresh whole peaches, plums, nectarines, and pluots. For patients with illness suggestive of invasive listeriosis, testing should include blood culture and other tests, such as culture of cerebrospinal fluid, as indicated by the clinical presentation.

According to New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) Bureau of Communicable Disease Control (BCDC), to date, no illnesses have been linked to the recalled fruits. So, that is good news.

The Canadian experience:

According to Health Canada website, the listeriosis outbreak in the summer/fall of 2008 linked to ready-to-eat meats produced at a Maple Leaf plant in Ontario was a significant public health event. As of December 10, 2008, there were 20 deaths across five provinces where listeriosis was the underlying or contributing cause of death and the outbreak generated high media and public interest.

The bacteria are found in food and elsewhere in nature. It can cause a rare but serious disease called listeriosis. Pregnant women, the elderly and individuals with weakened immune systems are at higher risk than others. In serious cases, listeriosis can lead to brain infection and even death.

Listeria is found in soil, vegetation, water, sewage, some types of livestock feed and in the feces of humans and animals. Animals and humans can carry the bacteria without knowing it.

Plants and vegetables can become contaminated with Listeria from soil, water and manure-based fertilizers. Farm animals that appear healthy may also carry Listeria and contaminate foods such as meats and dairy products.

The Health Canada website says that unlike most bacteria, Listeria can survive and sometimes grow on foods being stored in the refrigerator. Moreover, foods that are contaminated with these bacteria look, smell and taste normal. About five per cent of healthy adults are carriers of Listeria and have no symptoms. The good news is Listeria can be killed by pasteurization and proper cooking procedures.

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