Listeria cases among at-risk persons are a timely reminder for food safety

The Australian Government Department of Health in collaboration with jurisdictions is currently investigating three cases of Listeria infections (listeriosis) occurring in Victoria, Queensland and New South Wales. All cases occurred in people aged over 70 years and all had significant underlying health conditions. Unfortunately two people (from NSW and Victoria) have died.

Investigations have implicated smoked salmon as the likely source. This is a timely reminder for people to ensure that food is handled, prepared and stored safely, and that those most at-risk of listeriosis avoid certain foods.

Listeriosis is an illness usually caused by eating food contaminated by the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes. The bacteria are widely distributed in the environment and can grow in food at refrigeration temperatures. Most people who are exposed to Listeria will only develop mild symptoms, though illness can be severe in those most at-risk. Those at increased risk of illness include pregnant women and their unborn babies, newborn babies, the elderly, and people of all ages with immune systems weakened by illness or medication.

If you (or someone in your household) have a weakened immune system or are pregnant, the best way to avoid Listeria is to eat freshly cooked or freshly prepared food.

Try to avoid foods that have a higher risk of Listeria contamination such as:

  • chilled seafood such as raw oysters, sashimi and sushi, smoked ready-to-eat seafood and cooked ready-to-eat prawns
  • cold meats from delicatessen counters and sandwich bars, and packaged, sliced ready-to-eat meats
  • cold cooked ready-to-eat chicken (whole, portions, or diced)
  • rockmelon
  • pre-prepared or pre-packaged fruit or vegetable salads, including those from buffets and salad bars
  • 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.

You can further reduce your risk by:

  • avoiding food that is past its best before or use by date
  • refrigerating leftovers promptly and using them within 24 hours, or freezing them
  • cooking food thoroughly
  • reheating food until it is steaming hot.

Listeria infection starts with flu-like symptoms such as fever, chills, muscle aches, nausea, and sometimes diarrhoea.

People can start experiencing symptoms within a few days, but symptoms can take a number of weeks to appear after eating a contaminated product.

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