Listeria infection is rare and is caused by bacteria known as listeria monocytogenes found in food contaminated with this bacteria. While it is rare, there are people who are at risk and this includes pregnant women. Listeria infection is often a mild illness in pregnant women, however it can harm the unborn baby by causing miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth or an ill baby at birth.
The symptoms usually occur about three weeks after eating the contaminated food but can occur any time from 3 to 70 days afterwards.
Symptoms of listeria infection may vary, some people may not notice any symptoms but people at risk (including pregnant women) may complain of feeling tired, headaches, fatigue and general aches and pains. In extreme cases these symptoms may become more severe and lead to an infection of the brain or blood poisoning. In pregnant women the only sign might be a high temperature before or during labour.
Listeria bacteria can be found in many places such as in soil, sewage and in animals. They can also be found in some foods such as raw meat, raw vegetables and some processed foods. It is important to ensure that all of your food has been washed, prepared and cooked safely.
There are many ways to try to avoid Listeria infection:
- Avoid high risk foods
- Ensure raw food such as meat is properly cooked
- Ensure raw fruit and vegetables are washed thoroughly
- Keep raw meat separate from other foods, such as vegetables
- Use separate chopping boards for meat and fruit or vegetables
- Wash hands before and after preparing food
- Wash knives and chopping boards well
- Be extra vigilant with hand washing including after handling animals
- Perishable foods should be stored appropriately i.e. refrigerated below 5 degrees Celsius.
High Risk Foods include:
- Soft cheese such as brie, camembert and ricotta
- Ready cooked meats e.g. salami
- Raw seafood e.g. oysters, crayfish, sushi
- Smoked seafood e.g. smoked salmon, mussels
- Pre cut salads or fruit
- Soft serve ice cream
Home prepared food is often best as we can have control over the preparation.