AFSCA – Belgium – Listeria Information

5 things to know about Listeria

Listeria is a bacterium found everywhere in our natural environment: in the air, soil, water… and sometimes in food. There are several types of Listeria, but only Listeria monocytogenes is primarily transmitted to humans through food . In some cases, this can lead to a foodborne infection: listeriosis.

Is the bacterium dangerous, how many people fall ill each year and what about the FASFC checks? These 5 questions and answers about Listeria monocytogenes will allow you to learn more about this type of Listeria bacteria and give you advice on how to avoid infections at home.

1. Listeria is mainly present in chilled ready-to-eat products

Listeria can be present in both animal products and plant products. The products at risk are mainly chilled products consumed without being heated, such as cheeses made from raw milk, cold cuts, raw vegetables and smoked fish.

Indeed, the bacterium can still survive and grow in cold and humid climates.

2. More than 2,000 cases of listeriosis in Europe each year

In the European Union, the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes is responsible for more than 2,000 cases of listeriosis each year. Listeriosis is one of the most serious foodborne infections. The latest report from EFSA (the European Food Safety Authority) indicates that listeriosis is the fifth most frequently reported zoonosis (disease transmitted from animals to humans) in humans in the world. EU.

In healthy people with normal defenses, the disease can develop without symptoms or mild flu-like symptoms (fever, muscle pain, headache, gastrointestinal problems). But there are also high-risk groups for whom listeria can cause a serious infection.

3. Not all people who eat food contaminated with listeria get sick

The group of risk profiles is called YOPI. This English term stands for Young (babies and young children up to 5 years old), Old (those over 65), Pregnant (pregnant women) and immunocompromised (these are people whose immunity is reduced, as is the case for people with chronic illnesses).

For these people, it is recommended to avoid certain foods because they are more likely to be contaminated with listeria. For example, it is recommended not to eat raw meat or fish, to replace mayonnaise-based spreads such as chicken curry with homemade salads, and not to thaw frozen foods in the refrigerator but to reheat them immediately in the microwave.

The nutritional recommendations for vulnerable people can be found in the table via this link (source: FPS Public Health, Environment and Food chain safety) .

4. The FASFC examines some 8,000 samples every year to detect the presence of Listeria monocytogenes

In 2021, the FASFC took some 8,000 samples which were analyzed for Listeria monocytogenes. This means an average of 20 samples per day for 365 days!

The results are reassuring, since 9 out of 10 samples passed the listeria test 😉.

Moreover, these are only samples taken by the FASFC itself. Did you know that food companies must also test their products for pathogenic bacteria, such as listeria monocytogenes?

If a sample is non-compliant, all necessary measures are taken by the company and/or the FASFC to protect the health of the consumer. This may result in the withdrawal of products from the market or a recall from consumers. To stay informed of any product recalls, you can subscribe to our newsletter , or keep an eye on our website and social media .

5. Follow these 3 golden rules to avoid Listeria contamination

Despite all these precautions, contaminated products can end up in your home. Fortunately, there are simple things you can do to get rid of this bacteria:

– Turn on the tap : rinse vegetables and herbs well, wash your hands while cooking, soak your used cooking utensils in soapy water… It seems obvious but making sure everything stays clean in the kitchen , you can significantly reduce the risk of contamination!

– Store at 4°C : the temperature of your refrigerator must be set between 0 and 4°C. After shopping or lunch, it is better to put chilled products in the refrigerator as soon as possible. On very hot days, use a cooler bag with possibly ice packs to do your shopping.

– Read the label : refrigerated products have an expiry date – use by, which means that these foods should not be consumed after this date. The label also tells you how long you can keep the product after opening the package.

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