One in every three Australians are either at risk of getting the fatal foodborne bacterial illness, Listeria infection, or are living in a household with someone who is at risk, according to new research from the Food Safety Information Council (FSIC).
Nationwide results from a survey of over 1200 adults, conducted by OmniPoll on behalf of FSIC, shows that Australians may be unaware that they are putting their own health at risk because they either don’t know about Listeria or aren’t taking the necessary precautions to prevent food poisoning.
The survey results, released today, reveal that one third of all participants fall into a ‘high risk’ category for Listeria infection or live with someone in a high risk category. Australians in this category include pregnant women; people with diabetes, cancer or a chronic disease that suppresses the immune system; anyone over age 65 and organ transplant patients.
“A lot of people think food poisoning is just a bit of vomiting and a day off work. But food poising is serious – there are such a large number of cases and fatalities each year.”
The survey also found that a third of people surveyed have never heard of Listeria, and 20 per cent of these couldn’t name any of the foods they need to avoid or cook to prevent Listeria infection. Awareness of Listeria was also higher among females, and increased with aged and education.
FSIC chairperson, Rachelle Williams, tells SBS that Listeria infections should be taken seriously as they can lead to death, especially for people in high risk or vulnerable groups.
“A lot of people think food poisoning is just a bit of vomiting and a day off work,” says Williams. “But food poising is serious – there are such a large number of cases and fatalities each year.”
FSIC estimates that there are 4.1 million cases of food poisoning in Australia annually, resulting in 31,920 hospitalisations, 86 deaths and one million visits to doctors on average, each year.
Williams reminds Australians about the listeria outbreak linked to rockmelons earlier this year, which resulted in seven tragic deaths and a miscarriage. “This was followed by a recall of imported frozen vegetables which was linked to 47 listeriosis cases and 9 deaths in Europe and one death in Australia.”
Listeria infection is a potentially deadly form of food poisoning. Listeria are bacteria that are widely found in the environment so most raw foods are likely to be contaminated.
“My message is really this simple: if you are in any of the high risk of listeria groups, then you should be vary careful and avoid particular foods. The reason is there is a greater likelihood [that listeria] is in or around particular foods.”
If you are at risk of Listeria infection you need to avoid, or where possible cook, the following foods:
- Unpackaged ready to eat meats from delicatessen counters and sandwich bars; packaged, sliced ready-to-eat meats; cold cooked chicken purchased ready to eat, whole, diced or sliced and refrigerated paté or meat spreads.
- All soft, semi soft and surface ripened cheeses e.g. brie, camembert, ricotta, feta and blue (pre-packaged and delicatessen), unpasteurised dairy products (e.g. raw milk or cheeses) and soft serve ice cream.
- Pre-prepared or pre-packaged cut fruit and vegetable salads; pre-cut fruit and vegetables that will be eaten raw; frozen fruit or vegetables that may not be further cooked (e.g. berries, peas, sweet corn); rockmelon/cantaloupes (whole or cut); and bean or seed sprouts.
- Raw seafood (e.g. oysters, sashimi or sushi); smoked ready-to-eat seafood; ready-to-eat peeled prawns (cooked); prawn or seafood salads; and seafood extender.
“No one is saying don’t eat these foods altogether but you need to do the basics in food safety to prevent Listeria.”
Food safety tips to follow
Williams recommends all households follow these food safety tips to reduce their risk of Listeria infection as well as other forms of food poisoning:
- Always wash your hands with soap and running water and dry thoroughly before handling food and keep food utensils and cooking areas clean.
- Ready to eat food or leftovers should never be stored in the fridge for more than 24 hours. Since Listeria grows slowly in the fridge, it will do so only very slowly at cold temperatures so make sure your refrigerator is keeping your food at or less than 5°C.
- Avoid refrigerated foods that are past their ‘use by’ date.
- Refrigerate leftovers promptly and use within 24 hours or freeze.
- Always look for cooking and storage instructions on the food package label and follow them when provided.
- Cook high-risk foods such as poultry, minced meat, sausages, hamburgers and leftovers to 75°C.
- Cook egg dishes, such as quiche, to 72°C in the centre (or until the white is firm and the yolk thickens).
- Cook frozen fruit and vegetables.
Australian Food Safety Week runs from 10 to 17 November 2018.
If you are pregnant, elderly or immune compromised, please consult a GP or an accredited practicing dietitian to discuss how to eat well while avoiding foods at risk of Listeria.