Listeria, a bacterium we've become all too familiar with, is making news again because of more food recalls. Recalls can be scary, but this rare bacterium might not be as big of a threat to our food supply as you may think—despite the headlines. Learn more about how foods come into contact with listeria and what you can do to prevent illness from it.
It seems like almost every other week we hear about another food recall because of the bacterium Listeria. Famous cases, including names like Blue Bell and General Mills, are a seemingly common news story. The latest addition to the recall list is Kellogg's, who just announced a voluntary recall of 10,000 cases of Eggo Nutri-Grain Whole Wheat Waffles. Although there's cause for concern, there's less to worry about than you might think.
Listeria is a bacterium that can exist in water, soil, and on some animals. It's unique due to its ability to survive extremely cold temperatures, but it can be killed by cooking and pasteurization. It isn't constrained to contaminating one certain type of food; the last few recalls have involved ice cream, frozen vegetables, and flour. It has also been known to be in other products like certain meats or unpasteurized dairy.
Although it has been a commonplace health scare in the recent months, Listeria is still a very rare bacteria to contract. Food companies are constantly testing their facilities and products for possible contamination, which is exactly how Kellogg's discovered their possible contamination in their frozen waffles.
Since flour is not heat treated before it's bagged and put on store shelves, any Listeria contamination can live on. Other foods, which are often frozen to kill bacteria, can contain Listeria because of its ability to survive in extreme temperatures. Despite these ways that Listeria occasionally slips by inspectors and food companies, it's still a very rare bacteria to find in the food supply.
So What Can I Do?
- Familiarize yourself with the facts about Listeria and what foods it is more common in.
- Don't eat anything uncooked or undercooked that could possibly contain listeria—especially if you're pregnant. This includes deli meats, sprouts, raw cookie dough, and more.
- Keep up to date on current recalls by signing up for recall alerts from the FDA.
- If in doubt, toss out any items that might contain the bacteria (from the recall list), and follow the rest of our Food Recall Guide.