CDC highlights Listeria in Vital Signs

Despite falling infection rates at the beginning of the millennium, outbreaks of Listeria continue to cause severe illness.

More than 1,600 cases of listeriosis were reported from 2009-2011, with about 20 percent of infections causing death. Most deaths occurred among the elderly or as miscarriages after a pregnant woman contracted Listeria, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which highlighted Listeria and its severity in its latest Vital Signs.

Of the 10 outbreaks with an identified food source reported during the same period, six were associated with soft cheese and two to raw produce (most notably, cantaloupe). The CDC recommends against consuming unpasteurized milk or soft cheeses made from unpasteurized milk (for example, queso fresco). Other foods implicated in listeriosis include cold deli meats, hot dogs, raw sprouts and smoked seafood.

Listeria is the third leading cause of food poisoning-related death — one in five people who contract listeriosis die.

Public health surveillance and research into Listeria has been occurring for years, from DNA fingerprinting the bacteria to better identify outbreaks to developing regulations, such as the 2011 Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) to put further safeguards in place to prevent contamination.

“The lower rates of Listeria infection attributed to meat and poultry over the past decade point to the success of prevention-based policies and industry best practices,” said Elisabeth Hagen, M.D., Undersecretary for Food Safety, U.S. Department of Agriculture in a statement. “However, important work remains if we hope to continue this momentum. Additional research and continual monitoring of evolving risks will allow us to develop policies that further reduce these illness rates.”

To read the full report, check out Vital Signs here (it also includes an infographic packed full of info).

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