The risk of developing the potentially deadly listeria infection is more common than some may believe, with new research revealing the shocking amount of Aussies likely to contract the infection caused by contaminated foods.
According to Omnipoll research released by the Food Safety Information Council (FSIC), one in three Australians will either get the infection themselves or live in a household with someone at risk. The results found a third of those people had never heard of the listeria infection and two in 10 couldn’t name any of the foods they needed to avoid or cook to prevent the infection.
With recalls of frozen vegetables, rockmelons and silverside from Aussie supermarket shelves all occurring this year, FSIC Chair Rachelle Williams said it’s a timely reminder that food poisoning isn’t just a minor stomach upset.
“The Listeria outbreak linked to Australian rockmelons earlier this year resulted in seven tragic deaths and a miscarriage,” she said in a statement. “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 the disease caused by the listeria infection is quite rare, it can be serious for pregnant women and their unborn babies, the elderly, those with chronic diseases and organ transplant patients. Because of this, Aussies are being urged to be wary of what they eat and how they prepare certain foods, especially because listeria bacteria are often found in raw foods.
Listeria can be life-threatening for certain people, particularly those over the age of 60. Those who are over 70, have diabetes, cancer or even suppressed immune systems are most at risk, while it is also known to cause illness in pregnant women and their unborn babies.
In many cases, listeria is present in natural products without causing any harm. However, it is particularly difficult to diagnose as symptoms present at different times. Victims typically show flu-like symptoms including a fever, chills, muscle aches, nausea and diarrhoea. Some people show symptoms immediately, while others can take more than six weeks to appear after eating food at risk.
Some of the most common foods linked to the infection include unpackaged ready-to-eat meats, a range of cheeses such as brie, camembert and ricotta, raw seafood and pre-packaged or pre-prepared cut fruit and vegetables.
However, this doesn’t mean you have to miss our on your favourite foods as the bacteria can be easily killed off with correct cooking methods.
“You can add ham to a pizza, feta to a quiche or smoked salmon to fully cooked scrambled eggs,” Williams explained. “Just remember that cooked foods can easily become re-contaminated through poor food handling after cooking.”
Just to be safe, it is recommended people wash their hands with soap and running water, avoid refrigerated foods that are past their use by date, cook frozen fruit and vegetables and cook high risk foods such as poultry, minced meat, sausages, hamburgers and leftovers to 75 degrees celsius.
For those unsure whether their condition or medication increases the risk of becoming infected, it’s important to discuss the matter with a GP or health professional. An online quiz has also been set up to help educate people further.