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Listeria Monocytogenes (Listeriosis) informationListeria & Your Family

Listeria Monocytogenes

Listeria is the name of a genus of a rod-shaped bacteria found in animal and human feces, on vegetation, and in some livestock feed, as well as in some soil and water. As parasites, Listeria bacteria can live in warm- and cold-blooded animals, including human beings.

One type of Listeria bacteria, Listeria monocytogenes (L. monocytogenes), can cause an illness called listeriosis. L. monocytogenes bacteria have been found in at least 37 species of mammal, 17 bird species and some types of fish and shellfish. A hardy bacterium, it is remarkably resistant to freezing, drying, and, to some extent, heating. Listeria monocytogenes bacteria thrive best in temperatures from 85˚ F to 117˚ F, but they can grow in temperatures ranging from just above freezing to 113˚ F, including the temperature range we use for refrigeration. The bacteria can also survive temperatures as low as 20˚ F.

Because animals may carry it in their intestines without becoming sick, Listeria sometimes spreads to meat and dairy products. Although Listeria monocytogenes bacteria are killed through cooking and other heating methods used to produce ready-to-eat foods such as pasteurization, some ready-to-eat foods become contaminated after processing. This kind of contamination can take place in the processing plant or on the road from the processor to your plate.

Listeriosis outbreaks are most commonly associated with ready-to-eat meat foods, including hot dogs, luncheon meats, cold cuts, fermented or dry sausage, and other deli-style meat and poultry. Soft cheeses are another common source of Listeria outbreaks.

Initial symptoms of listeriosis are usually flu-like. Because most people are resistant to the illness and contamination is relatively rare, listeriosis is uncommon. However, certain populations are much more susceptible to infection, and of the 1,000 to 2,500 people who are infected each year in the U.S. 25 percent die as a result of the infection.


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