Listeriosis, the foodborne illness caused by the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes, is rare. Listeria can cause serious illness and death in vulnerable groups of the population.
Those at increased risk include people with weakened immune systems, pregnant women and their unborn babies, newborn babies, the very young, and the elderly and infirm.
Although the number of reported cases is low compared to campylobacter and salmonella, the disease places significant public health and economic burdens on the UK because of its high hospitalisation and mortality rate. Most people infected with listeria are hospitalised and approximately a third die.
The bacterium L. monocytogenes is widespread in the environment and can contaminate a wide range of foods. It is most commonly associated with chilled ready-to-eat foods such as cooked sliced meats, smoked fish, cooked shellfish, soft mould ripened chesses, pate and pre-prepared sandwiches, that do not require further cooking or reheating.
You can avoid listeria by:
keeping raw and ready-to-eat foods separate
washing fruit and vegetables thoroughly
keeping chilled ready-to-eat foods cold – make sure your fridge is working properly and is set to 5⁰C or below
always using foods by their ‘use-by’ date
following the storage instructions on the label and using opened foods within two days (unless the manufacturer’s instructions state otherwise)
cooking and reheating foods until they are piping hot
Consultation on new listeriosis guidance
The FSA has developed new draft guidance for healthcare and social care organisations on reducing the risk of listeriosis in vulnerable groups. This guidance has been developed with input from a wide range of stakeholders and is intended to complement good practice in the food industry.
Listeria is highlighted as an area for attention in the FSA strategic plan for 2015-20. The existing Foodborne Disease Strategy is also being reviewed to develop and inform the future listeria strategy.