What Is Listeria Monocytogenes?

by Lara Rutherford-Morrison

Last week, CRF Food Products and Trader Joe’s issued multiple recalls of food items linked to possible Listeria monocytogenes contamination at CRF Food Product’s frozen facilities. If you’re asking, “But what is Listeria monocytogenes? And how does it affect my frozen veggies?”, read on. Infections caused by Listeria monocytogenes are a serious business, especially if you’re pregnant, elderly, or have a compromised immune system, so if there’s a possibility that you’ve purchased contaminated products, it’s important to take the time to learn about the risks of exposure to this bacterium, and check your freezer for recalled items.

Listeria monocytogenes is a bacterium found in soil, water, plants, animal manure, and certain varieties of livestock feed. Unusually among bacteria, ­Listeria can live and grow at low temperatures, which means that it can be present even in foods that are refrigerated. Furthermore, when a food has been contaminated with Listeria, it isn’t readily apparent — you won’t be able to detect the contamination through sight, smell, or taste. You can kill Listeria through pasteurization and cooking.

Listeria causes a type of serious infection called “listeriosis.” Listeriosis usually affects pregnant women, newborn babies, the elderly, and adults with weakened immune systems, though people outside these categories can also be affected. Symptoms of listeriosis include "headache, stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance, and convulsions in addition to fever and muscle aches," according to the CDC.

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Listeriosis can have very serious consequences: The CDC reports that, among pregnant women, the infection can lead to “miscarriage, stillbirth, premature delivery, or life-threatening infection of the newborn.” Listeriosis is more likely to cause death than other types of bacteria-related food poisoning. Especially among elderly or immunocompromised adults, the infection can lead to meningoencephalitis or septicemia, which are both potentially fatal. To put it simply, listeriosis is bad news.

CRF Food Products issued a recall of more than 350 products in early May, after the CDC linked seven Listeria infections to foods processed by CRF Frozen Food’s facility in Pasco, Washington. The recall involves more than 40 brands, including Trader Joe’s, Safeway, and Costco. You can find out about Trader Joe’s recalled products here, and other brands involved in the recall at the FDA website.

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