Listeriosis is an illness caused by eating food contaminated with bacteria known as Listeria monocytogenes. In pregnant women, Listeria infections are usually mild. The only symptom may be a high temperature. However even a mild form of the illness can affect the unborn baby (fetus) and can result in miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth or a very ill baby at birth.
Listeria can however be successfully treated with antibiotics if treatment is started early. The Listeria bacterium is impossible to eradicate as it is commonly found in the environment (soil, silage, sewage, birds, animals, foods including raw meat, uncooked vegetables, soft cheeses, pate, unpasteurised milk and some processed foods).
High risk foods
All high-risk foods should be avoided by pregnant women, these include:
- ready to eat seafood such as smoked fish and smoked mussels, oysters or raw seafood such as sushi or sashimi.
- drinks made from fresh fruit and/or vegetables where washing procedures are unknown (excluding pasteurised or canned juices).
- pre-prepared or pre-packaged fruit and vegetable salads including those available from buffets, salad bars and sandwich bars.
- deli meats that are eaten without further cooking or heating, such as pate, ham, strassburg, salami and processed chicken used for sandwiches.
- unpasteurised milk or foods made from unpasteurised milk.
- soft serve ice-creams.
- soft cheeses such as brie, camembert, ricotta and feta (unless cooked and served hot.
- ready to eat foods, including any leftover meats which have been refrigerated for more than one day.
- dips and salad dressings in which vegetables may have been dipped.
- raw vegetable garnishes.
- freshly prepared foods to be eaten immediately.
- freshly cooked food to be eaten immediately.
- freshly pasteurised milk and UHT
- hard cheeses, cheese spreads, processed cheese
- canned and pickled food.
Safe food handling and storage
Listeria can grow in the refrigerator, however this bacteria can be readily killed during cooking.
To reduce the risk of Listeria or any other food borne illness such as gastroenteritis it is important that basic food hygiene and storage should be observed.
- wash hands before preparing food.
- wash hands between handling raw and ready to eat food.
- keep all food covered.
- place all cooked food in refrigerator within one hour of cooking.
- store raw meat, raw poultry and raw fish on the bottom shelve of your refrigerator to prevent dripping onto cooked and ready to eat food.
- strictly observe use-by dates or best-before dates on refrigerated foods
- keep refrigerator clean and the temperature below 5° C.
- do not handle cooked foods with the same utensils used for raw foods
- all raw fruits, vegetables and salads should be washed well before eating or juicing and consumed fresh.
- defrost food by placing it on the lower shelves of a refrigerator or use a microwave oven.
- thoroughly cook all meat, poultry and fish and eggs.
- keep hot foods hot (above 60° C) and cold food cold (at or below 5° C).
- reheat food until it is piping hot (internal temperature of at least 75° C).
- when using a microwave oven observe the manufacturer’s recommended standing times to ensure the food attains an even temperature before it is eaten.
This information is referenced from The Department of Health Victoria.