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1 year ago
You NEED To Hear About This Scary Food-Borne Illness

You’ll want to check more than the expiration date before eating the cheese sitting in your fridge: After a recent food poisoning outbreak, Whole Foods has recalled three soft cheeses linked to Listeria, a bacterial infection that can be deadly to people who are sick, pregnant, or elderly, according to a statement made by the company.

While investigations are still underway, officials suspect three types of cheeses sold under the Whole Foods Market store label—Les Frères, Petit Frère, and Petit Frère with Truffles cheeses, all manufactured by Wisconsin-based Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese Company—could be the source of the uptick in Listeria cases. So far, five incidents have been reported across four states—including one miscarriage and one death. So if you have any of these cheeses in your fridge, trash them pronto. (You can bring your receipt to Whole Foods for a refund.)

What Is Listeria? Listeria is a bacterial infection caused by eating food contaminated with the Listeria monocytogenes. The illness, which is marked by flu-like symptoms, affects about 1,600 people in the U.S. annually—but healthy people rarely get it, according to CDC data.

In fact, 90 percent of people infected by Listeria have a weak immune system due to their age, radiation treatments, being pregnant, or having a preexisting, serious health condition (think kidney failure, HIV, cancer, or liver disease), according to the CDC. For people in these high-risk categories, the infection can be super-scary—especially for pregnant women. Bacteria can cross the placenta and infect the infant, causing preterm labor, a miscarriage, or a stillbirth, says Mahon. (It’s why you should take these special precautions if you’re expecting. )

What if you’re under the age of 65 and don’t have a compromised immune system? You’re probably safe—you’d have to ingest a whole lot of Listeria monocytogenes bacteria (it’s hard to say exactly how much) to have any symptoms at all, says Barbara Mahon, M.D., M.P.H., medical epidemiologist and deputy chief of the Enteric Diseases Epidemiology Branch at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

How to Avoid It Scary but true: Food contaminated with Listeria doesn’t look, smell, or taste any different than uninfected versions of the same items, says Mahon. Common carriers include smoked seafood, processed meats like hot dogs and cold cuts, produce such as sprouts and cantaloupe, and unpasteurized dairy products (including some types of cheeses, like the ones recalled), according to the CDC. But other foods can carry it, too, says Mahon.

To play it safe—which is especially important if you fall into a high-risk category—Mahon suggests following these tips:

-Avoid sliced deli meats, or heat them until they’re steaming hot -Steer clear of unpasteurized products at all costs -Wash produce according to these guidelines -Refrigerate chopped fruits and veggies -Follow these food-safety tips when handling and cooking raw meat -Always keep your refrigerator below 40 degrees -Mind food expiration dates

If You Find Out You’ve Eaten Tainted Food… As long as you’re generally healthy, you probably don’t need to worry too much, says Mahon. But if you develop a fever and muscle aches, diarrhea, or any other flu-like symptoms—even up to two months after eating infected food—see your doctor ASAP for testing. While recovery time depends on the person, antibiotics can clear you up in 10 to 14 days, says Mahon.

Get more information on Listeria from the CDC here.

photo: iStockphoto/Thinkstock
More from WH:
How to Avoid Foodborne Illness During Pregnancy
What You Need to Know About E. Coli

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