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N.C. Health Officials monitor cases of cantaloupe-related Listeria infection

State health officials urge safe food handling

For release: Immediate    September 30, 2011
Contact: Mark Van Sciver (919) 707-5059

RALEIGH — North Carolina Health Officials are closely monitoring recently reported cases of cantaloupe-related Listeria infection associated with the recent outbreak that has sickened and killed several people in other states. N.C. public health officials are on the lookout for any potential cases. They encourage people to take steps to avoid exposure to Listeria infection and other food-borne illnesses.

“Most food-borne illness can be avoided by using safe food handling practices,” said State Epidemiologist Dr. Megan Davies. “This is especially important for pregnant women, newborns, the elderly, and adults with weakened immune systems who are particularly susceptible to complications from food-borne illnesses.”

Listeriosis is an infectious disease usually caused by eating food contaminated by the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes. A person with listeriosis has fever, muscle aches, and sometimes gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea or diarrhea. Infected women may experience only a mild, flu-like illness; however, infections during pregnancy can lead to premature delivery, infection of the newborn or even stillbirth.

Listeriosis can be avoided by following some general recommendations:

  • Avoid raw (unpasteurized) milk or foods made from raw milk.
  • Thoroughly cook raw food from animal sources, such as beef, pork, or poultry.
  • Wash fruit and raw vegetables before eating.
  • Keep uncooked meats separate from vegetables and from cooked foods and ready-to-eat foods.
  • Wash hands, knives, and cutting boards after handling uncooked foods.

High-risk persons, such as pregnant women and persons with weakened immune systems should take more precautions:

  • Avoid soft cheeses.
  • Ready-to-eat foods such as hot dogs should be cooked until steaming hot before eating.
  • Although the risk of listeriosis associated with food from deli counters is relatively low. Pregnant women and immuno-suppressed people may choose to avoid these foods.

Listeria monocytogenes is found in soil and water. Fruits and vegetables can become contaminated from the soil or from manure used as a fertilizer. Animals can carry the bacterium without appearing ill and can contaminate foods of animal origin such as meats and dairy products. The bacterium has been found in a variety of raw foods, such as uncooked meats and vegetables, as well as in processed foods that become contaminated after processing, such as soft cheeses and cold cuts at the deli counter. Unpasteurized (raw) milk or foods made from raw milk may contain the bacterium. Listeria is killed by pasteurization.

If you suspect that you or a family member are experiencing any symptoms related to listeriosis or any food-borne illness, you should seek immediate medical attention. For more information on prevention, go to: http://www.cdc.gov/listeria/prevention.html.

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