An outbreak of listeria in Victoria has led to the death of one person and left six others ill in recent weeks. So how much danger is there of contracting listeria poisoning?
Listeria monocytogenes is a bacteria present on many raw foods and dairy products; however it is easily killed with heat or through pasteurisation.
Food poisoning caused by listeria is rare, with only about 60 to 80 people contracting it in Australia each year. However it can be very serious and one in five people who get infected die of listeria food poisoning.
It is often marked by flu-like symptoms such as fever, stiff neck and weakness, and the people most at risk are pregnant women (read Food Authority NSW's booklet on listeria and pregnancy here), the elderly and people with weakened immune systems.
It is recommended that these people "should not eat foods that are high risk for Listeria contamination, including pre-prepared fruits and salads, deli meats, soft serve ice-creams, and unpasteurised milk products," according to associate Professor Martyn Kirk from the National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health at ANU.
“Unfortunately, lots of these foods are common at Christmas-time, and it can be difficult for people to avoid them," he says in a statement.
What to avoid
While leftovers are a popular option over the Christmas period, Lydia Buchtman from the Food Safety Information Council recommends that people most vulnerable to food poisoning stick to freshly cooked and freshly prepared foods.
She also advises they stay clear of:
- cold meats from delicatessen counters and sandwich bars, and packaged, sliced ready-to-eat meats
- cold cooked ready-to-eat chicken
- pre-prepared or pre-packaged fruit or vegetable salads, including those from buffets and salad bars
- chilled seafood such as raw oysters, sashimi and sushi, smoked ready-to-eat seafood and cooked ready-to-eat prawns
- soft, semi-soft and surface-ripened cheeses such as brie, camembert, ricotta, blue and feta
- refrigerated paté or meat spreads
- soft serve ice cream
- unpasteurised dairy products
- products that have passed their 'best before' or 'use by' dates
What to remember
When handling and preparing food there are a number of best practice habits that will lower your risk of contracting food poisoning. These include:
- Wash raw fruit and vegetables
- Cook meat products and eggs thoroughly
- Avoid products that have past their ‘best before’ of ‘use by’
- Ensue that reheated leftovers are piping hot before eating
- Use different chopping boards and cooking utensils for raw and cooked foods
- Cover food
- Keep ready-to-eat foods refrigerated and eat as soon as possible
- Defrost food in the fridge or microwave
- Wash your hands before handling food