Pregnant women are being urged to be vigilant with their food handling and storage after a spike in listeria poisoning cases across Victoria. It’s been reported that one person has died and six others have been hospitalised amid the unexplained increase in food poisoning cases.
According to The Age, Victorian doctors have been told by the Department of Health to be on the lookout for those at risk of listeriosis, which includes pregnant women and their unborn babies.
Increase In Cases Unrelated
According to the Department of Health, there has been an increase in cases in pregnant women and the elderly in recent weeks, however they haven’t been linked to each other or a particular food.
As the weather heats up, there’s concern that even more people will fall ill.
What is listeria?
Listeria is a bacterium that can contaminate food, leading to listeriosis. While it is uncommon, it can be dangerous to vulnerable groups.
It’s primarily transmitted by eating contaminated food, however the transmission can also happen in utero.
What are the symptoms?
For pregnant women, the symptoms will usually present as a mild flu-like illness, but some women will have no symptoms at all. Becoming infected during pregnancy can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, preterm labour, and sepsis or meningitis in the baby.
In immunosuppressed patients, listeriosis will usually cause sepsis, meningitis and meningoencephalitis. Infections such as pneumonia, endocarditis and granulomatous lesions in the liver and other joints are also possible.
Healthy adults usually aren’t affected but may experience mild to moderate flu-like symptoms and gastro.
How To Prevent Listeria Poisoning
The Department of Health has outlined the ways to prevent and treat listeriosis, including handling, preparing and storing food correctly.
Also, those at risk should avoid the following foods which have a higher risk of listeria contamination:
- Ready-to-eat seafood such as cooked chilled prawns, smoked fish or mussels, oysters or raw seafood such as sashimi or sushi
- Pre-prepared or pre-packaged fruit and vegetable salads and sandwiches including those available from buffets, salad bars and sandwich bars
- Drinks made from fresh fruit and vegetables where washing procedures are unknown (excluding pasteurised or canned juices)
- Deli meats which are eaten without further cooking or heating, such as pate, ham, Strasbourg (Stras) and salami and cooked chicken (whole, portions or diced)
- Any unpasteurised dairy products
- Soft-serve ice creams
- Soft cheeses such as brie, camembert, ricotta, blue and feta (these are safe if cooked and served hot)
- Ready-to-eat foods, including leftover meats, which have been refrigerated for more than one day
- Dips and salad dressings in which vegetables may have been dipped
- Raw vegetable garnishes.
How To Store Food Correctly
Better Health says food-poisoning bacteria will grow and multiply in the temperature danger zone, which is between 5 °C and 60 °C. So high-risk foods like these need to be kept out of this zone:
- Raw and cooked meat, including poultry such as chicken and turkey, and foods containing these, such as casseroles, curries and lasagne
- Dairy products, such as custard and dairy based desserts like custard tarts and cheesecake
- Eggs and egg products, such as quiche
- Small goods such as hams and salamis
- Seafood, such as seafood salad, patties, fish balls, stews containing seafood and fish stock
- Cooked rice and pasta
- Prepared salads like coleslaws, pasta salads and rice salads
- Prepared fruit salads
- Ready to eat foods, including sandwiches, rolls, and pizza that contain any of the food above.
- Food that comes in packages, cans and jars can become high-risk foods once opened, and should be handled and stored correctly.
Ensure your fridge is kept at 5 °C or below and the freezer temperature should be below -15 °C.
Here Are Some Other Tips:
- When you’re shopping leave the chilled and frozen foods until last, and take them home immediately. If your shopping trip is going to last longer than 30 minutes or it’s a hot day, use an cooler bag or icepack to keep the food cold.
- Put cold and frozen foods in the fridge and freezer as soon as you get home.
- After you’ve cooked a meal and you want to cool it, put it into shallow dishes, or make the portions small so that it can be cooled quickly.
- Don’t pretty really hot food into the fridge, wait until it’s stopped steaming.
- Don’t refreeze thawed food.
- Bacteria can grow in frozen food while it’s thawing so don’t let it get into the temperature danger zone. Keep it in the fridge until it’s ready for cooking. If you defrost food in the microwave, cook it straight away.
- Store raw and cooked food separately.
- Store raw food in sealed or covered containers at the bottom of the fridge, in case any liquids leak out.
- Throw out any high-risk food left in the temperature danger zone for more than four hours.
Make sure you visit your doctor if you’re concerned, or are experiencing any symptoms.
For more information on the poisoning cases read here.