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.
Who can it affect?
Those at increased risk include people with weakened immune systems (such as those suffering from cancer), pregnant women and their unborn babies, newborn babies, the very young, and the elderly.
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.
What type of foods can it be found in?
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 smoke fish, cooked sliced meats, smoked fish, cooked shellfish, soft mould-ripened cheeses, pate and pre-prepared sandwiches, that do not require further cooking or reheating.
What you can do to avoid listeria
• keep raw and ready-to-eat foods separate
• wash fruit and vegetables thoroughly
• keep chilled ready-to-eat foods cold - make sure your fridge is working properly and is set to 5⁰C or below
• always use foods by their use-by date
• follow the storage instructions on the label and use opened foods within two days (unless the manufacturer's instructions state otherwise)
• eat foods taken out of chilled storage within four hours
• cook and reheat foods until they are piping hot
How can I prevent listeriosis?
Listeria can grow at refrigeration temperatures, so chilled ready-to-eat foods must be kept cold and eaten by their ‘use-by’ date.
New Listeriosis guidance
The FSA has developed guidance for healthcare and social care organisations to help them reduce the risk of vulnerable people within their care contracting listeriosis. This guidance has been developed with input from a wide range of stakeholders and is intended to complement good practice in the food industry.