April 17, 2012

FOOD & AG: Listeria makes a comeback

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Listeria is a deadly bacterial infection that develops from Listeria monocytogenes, a bacterium most commonly found in water and soil, as it thrives in wet, moist environments, and a recent outbreak of the infection spurred fear about the deadly bacteria.

Listeria enters the food system when the water that is contaminated is used to grow produce, or cows ingest the water and people eat or drink the contaminated, unpasteurized dairy products.

Keep in mind that Listeria is not killed by freezing or with refrigeration, but it is killed with cooking food or pasteurizing food.  The symptoms of this infection are fever, nausea, muscle aches, and diarrhea.

A serious Listeria outbreak began in August, 2011 in Colorado on Jensen Farms, where cantaloupe is grown, and the outbreak was said to be the deadliest food borne disease in the past decade.

The pathogen was found on the conveyor belt, drying area, and floor drain. The cantaloupes were not fully dried before placed in refrigeration, resulting in the ideal environment for Listeria to grow in, cool and moist.

The farm had passed a food safety audit a couple of days before the outbreak resulted, and the auditor gave the farm a 96 out of 100 points. F.D.A. officials stated that they will now need to set standards for auditors, because the Jensen farm was acclaimed to be safe, when in reality it caused the Listeria outbreak.  This incidence shows that food safety needs to be prevalent starting from the planting and all the way to the consumer’s table.

This case of Listeria will lead to a higher focus on food safety processes from farm to supermarket, and more intense audits will be conducted to ensure food safety in manufacturing plants. Also auditors will most likely go through intensive training and certification processes, to make sure they are doing their job correctly, and to prevent outbreaks like this.

Listeria causes the most danger to pregnant women, and people who have bad immune systems.

Listeria is dangerous and potentially deadly, so here are some tips to prevent infection:

·      Wash hands, and clean all cooking utensils before and after use.

·      Eat only cooked meat.

·      Use pasteurized dairy items.

·      Wash fresh produce before eating.

·      Eat perishable foods as soon as possible.

Delia Hughes is a student in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. She may be reached at dbh78@cornell.edu. The Missing Link: Food & Ag appears on Wednesdays.

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Original Author: Delia Hughes