About Listeria and Listeria Food Poisoning

Listeria monocytogenes is a bacterium capable of causing a serious and life-threatening foodborne infection known as listeriosis.  Listeriosis is caused by eating food contaminated with Listeria bacteria.   Healthcare professionals may use the terms “Listeria monocytogenes” or “Listeria” when referring to the bacteria and “listeriosis” when referring to the infection.

Listeria can be found throughout the environment in soil, water, and on plant material. Animals can carry Listeria without appearing ill, and may serve as a source of contamination for meat and dairy products.  Listeria can be introduced to a food manufacturing facility by any of these food materials, resulting in the contamination of food processing equipment and the environment.  Once Listeria contaminates the environmental surfaces of a food processing plant, it can be very difficult to eradicate.

Foods Associated with Listeriosis

Listeria outbreaks have been associated with ready-to-eats foods including deli meats, hot dogs, and spreads; uncooked meats; fish and other seafood (uncooked or smoked); vegetables and fruits; and dairy products including cheese (particularly soft cheeses) and ice cream.  Nonpasteurized milk and dairy products may contain Listeria. Unlike other bacteria, Listeria can tolerate higher levels of salt and can multiply in foods stored at refrigerator temperatures.

Symptoms and Diagnosis of Listeriosis

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that there are 1,591 cases of foodborne listeriosis, resulting in 255 deaths, in the U.S. each year.*  Newborns, pregnant women, older adults, and those individuals with weakened immune systems are at greatest risk for developing listeriosis.  Although less common, individuals not belonging to one of these high risk groups can also contract listeriosis.

Listeriosis symptoms may include fever, muscle aches, fatigue, and sometimes gastrointestinal symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea.  If the infection spreads to the central nervous system, symptoms may include headache, stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance, or convulsions. Pregnant women may experience only mild, flu-like symptoms.  To learn more, please see Symptoms and Complications of Listeria Food Poisoning.

Culture and identification of the bacteria from samples of blood, spinal fluid (CSF), amniotic fluid, placenta, or other normally sterile tissue are necessary for diagnosis of Listeria infection.  According to the CDC, stool cultures are of little assistance in diagnosing listeriosis.

The Deadly 2011 Listeria Cantaloupe Outbreak

In 2011 a total of 147 persons, across 28 states, suffered confirmed cases of listeriosis after eating Listeria contaminated cantaloupes produced by Jensen Farms.  Most of those sickened in the outbreak were persons over 60 years of age, and true to the nature of this pathogen, four pregnant women and 3 newborns were also infected.  One miscarriage was reported. By the end of the outbreak, 33 individuals had died as a result of listeriosis.  The CDC stated in its final outbreak report that an additional ten deaths, although not directly attributed to listeriosis, occurred among persons who had been infected with one of the cantaloupe outbreak-associated strains.

Obtain a Free Food Poisoning Lawsuit Evaluation

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with listeriosis, or have a question regarding your legal rights, you can request a free legal case evaluation by selecting Food Poisoning Lawsuit, or call the Law Firm of Eric H. Weinberg toll free at 877-934-6274.

*Foodborne Illness Acquired in the United States-Major Pathogens: Scallan, E.; Hoekstra, R.M.; Angulo, F.M.; Tauxe, R.V.; Widdowson, M-A; Roy, S.L.; Jones, J.L.; Griffin, P.M.: Emerging Infectious Diseases, www.cdc.gov/eid   Vol. 17,  No. 1, January 2011.

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