According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), researchers have identified more than 250 foodborne diseases. Bacteria, viruses and parasites are most commonly the culprits of foodborne disease but toxins and some chemicals can also make you sick. The CDC also notes that Norovirus, Salmonella, Clostridium perfringens, Campylobacter and Staphylococcus aureus are the five most common pathogens associated with foodborne illness.
Listeria monocytogenes is less common than the previously mentioned pathogens but can cause Listeriosis, which can have serious consequences that can lead to hospitalizations and even death. Listeria monocytogenes can be found in soil, water and on poultry and cattle.
Listeria monocytogenes is unique in that it can continue to grow in places with cooler temperatures, like your refrigerator. Foodsafety.gov has identified the follow foods groups as high-risk sources for Listeria contamination, ready-to-eat deli meats and hot dogs, refrigerated pâtés or meat spreads, unpasteurized (raw) milk and dairy products, soft cheese made with unpasteurized milk, such as queso fresco, Feta, Brie, Camembert, refrigerated smoked seafood and raw sprouts. The CDC also recognizes melons such as honeydew and cantaloupe as a potential source for Listeria contamination and notes that even some Mexican-style cheeses made from pasteurized milk have caused infections because of contamination during the cheese making process.
The CDC states, “An estimated 1,600 people get listeriosis each year, and about 260 die. The infection is most likely to sicken pregnant women and their newborns, adults aged 65 or older, and people with weakened immune systems.” There are steps you can take to reduce the likelihood of a Listeria contamination.
As recommend by Foodsafety.gov:
Do not drink raw (unpasteurized) milk, and do not eat foods that have unpasteurized milk in them.
Wash hands, knives, countertops, and cutting boards after handling and preparing uncooked foods.
Rinse raw produce thoroughly under running tap water before eating.
Keep uncooked meats, poultry, and seafood separate from vegetables, fruits, cooked foods, and ready-to-eat foods.
Thoroughly cook raw food from animal sources, such as meat, poultry, or seafood to a safe internal temperature.
Consume perishable and ready-to-eat foods as soon as possible.
Persons in higher risk groups should heat hot dogs, cold cuts, and deli meats before eating them.
Furthermore, the CDC recommends you refrigerate leftovers within 2 hours in shallow, covered containers and use within 3-4 days, avoid cross-contamination in the refrigerator or other places in the kitchen and use a thermometer to make sure your refrigerator is 40°F or lower and your freezer is 0°F or lower. The CDC, foodsafety.gov and the FDA are great resources for food safety information as well as your local Extension Office.