Beware Those Cravings
Rare, but Dangerous
Everyone Needs to Know
But you don't have to be a fetus or pregnant to fall ill at the
hands of Listeria. The bacterium sickens about 2,500 people and kills about 500
people per year, according to the CDC. In fact, the General Accounting Office
lists Listeria as the leading cause of death among food-borne pathogens.
"Luckily, these food hazards are relatively rare, but they
can have very devastating consequences," says Caroline Smith DeWaal, PhD,
food safety director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
It starts with mild, flu-like symptoms that most people, like
Lenkersdorf, dismiss. Few people seek immediate treatment because they don't
know they have it. But if diagnosed early enough, antibiotics can prevent
transmission of the infection to a fetus, doctors say.
Just Avoid It
Cold, even near freezing, temperatures do not easily subdue
Listeria. So while the average refrigerator, maintaining the otherwise safe
35-40 degrees Fahrenheit, can stop most other food-borne pathogens -- including
the notorious E. coli -- from proliferating, time in the cold box doesn't halt
"If you put a package of [tainted] hot dogs in the
refrigerator for several weeks, a very small level of Listeria can grow into a
serious contamination," says Catherine Donnelly, PhD, a food microbiologist
at the University of Vermont.
DeWaal offers the following tips:
- Consume only milk products made from pasteurized milk.
- Avoid pâtés; soft cheeses such as Brie, Camembert, and feta; and
blue-veined cheeses such as Roquefort.
- Cook all raw meat thoroughly. Do not sample meat while cooking.
- Keep raw meats separate from vegetables, cooked foods, and ready-to-eat
- Reheat leftovers and ready-to-eat foods such as cold cuts until they are
- Wash fruits and vegetables vigorously under running water.
Rochelle Jones is a writer based in Bethesda, Md. She has
covered health and medicine for The New York Daily News and The St.