I have an untold amount of fear about foodborne illness. It all began when I was around 15 years old and my mom took me out to eat at a new pub. I had a delicious fried portobello mushroom sandwich and french fries. A few hours later, the meal and I met again. And again. I think I encountered every food I'd ever eaten over the course of two days. One of the chief contaminants that causes food poisoning like the hell I experienced is listeria, and it's everywhere. Seriously, there are some surprising foods that can contain listeria and it will freak you out a bit. But to be forewarned is to be forearmed.
Listeria monocytogene is a dangerous bacteria. Most often found in refrigerated food, it's particularly insidious because it's absolutely everywhere since it's a bacteria found in human and animal waste, as per the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). We use animal waste to grow our crops, and you might be surprised how much human waste contamination exists everywhere. It also continues to grow in cold environments, unlike many other bacteria. While it can be deadly to anyone, it's of particular danger to elderly people, young children, pregnant women, and other vulnerable people in the population.
The foods that are most often associated with listeria are many and varied, and while it's impossible to avoid risk entirely, you can minimize your exposure.
1. Deli Meats
Call it lunch meat, deli meat, or cold cuts, but there's one thing they all have in common — possible listeria contamination. As per the FDA, ready-to-eat refrigerated meats, like your average deli ham or hot dog, are just ripe for contamination.
2. Fruits & Vegetables
Because of the use of fertilizer and also the human interaction with the produce before it hits your table, fruits and vegetables are high on the list of listeria-contaminated foods, as per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Make sure you thoroughly wash all your produce before you eat it. That includes washing the outsides of fruits of which you don't eat the exterior, even if you're going to cut through it to get to the flesh.
Seafood, specifically smoked, refrigerated, or raw seafood is a great place to start a listeria colony, according to FoodSafety.gov. And if it's there, it will keep growing.
But they're supposed to be so healthy, right? And also a breeding ground for bacteria like listeria and E.coli. They're really hard to get clean, and therefore really hard to decontaminate. Just avoid, noted the CDC. Let them grow up and eat them when they're mature.
5. Soft Cheeses
Soft cheeses are often made with raw milk. These might include queso fresco, brie, camembert, or feta. If you're not sure if the cheese was made with pasteurized milk, skip it if you're pregnant, recommended the CDC.
6. Raw Or Unpasteurized Milk
Raw milk, or milk that hasn't gone through the high-heating pasteurization process, can be a wealth of listeria and E.coli, because of the nature of how we get our milk. The CDC rates it as one of the most likely to be contaminated foods.
7. Foods Refrigerated For Extended Periods
The longer it's in the fridge, the longer the food has to grow more listeria. What might have been small and easy to contain, grows exponentially when left in its favorite chilly environs, noted Forbes magazine. It's yet another reason to wash your produce immediately upon purchasing, and eat it quickly.
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