One in three Australians could be at risk of Listeria infection, according to the Food Safety Information Council.

Research, conducted by Omnipoll, found one in three people are either at risk of infection themselves or live in a household with someone at risk.

A third of these at-risk households had never heard or Listeria infection and two in ten couldn’t name any of the foods they needed to avoid or cook to prevent illness.

The risk category includes pregnant women; people with a chronic disease that suppresses the immune system and those over 65 years old.

Awareness of the pathogen was higher among females and increases with age and education. Listeriosis is an infectious disease caused by Listeria monocytogenes. The incubation period is usually one to two weeks but can vary between a few days and up to 90 days.

The survey was released to mark Australian Food Safety Week, Nov. 10-17, 2018.

Interviews were conducted nationally between Aug. 23-28, 2018 with 1,257 respondents aged 18 years and over. Respondents were drawn from the online consumer panel managed by Lightspeed Research, OmniPoll’s online partner.

Around 150 people are hospitalized with listeriosis and about 15 people die each year, according to Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ).

Lydia Buchtmann, communication director at the Food Safety Information Council (FSIC), told Food Safety News that some findings were surprising.

“We had already chosen Listeria as the focus of this year’s Australian Food Safety Week. We were surprised that the Listeria risk was so high with a third of households being affected,” she added.

Buchtmann said the research also asked about Salmonella and Campylobacter.

Out of the general population, 82 percent had heard of Salmonella or Salmonellosis but only 15 percent had heard of Campylobacter or Campylobacteriosis.

There are an estimated 4.1 million cases of food poisoning in Australia each year that result in 31,920 hospitalizations, 86 deaths and one million visits to doctors on average annually.

Rachelle Williams, FSIC chair, said research findings were a timely reminder that food poisoning isn’t just a minor stomach upset but should be taken seriously as it can be deadly.

“The Listeria outbreak linked to Australian rock melons earlier this year resulted in seven tragic deaths and a miscarriage. This was followed by a recall of imported frozen vegetables which was linked to 47 listeriosis cases and nine deaths in Europe and one death in Australia.”

Listeriosis is a rare infection but can be very serious for the below at-risk groups:

  • pregnant women and their unborn babies
  • people who have diabetes, cancer or suppressed immune systems due to other chronic diseases
  • older people (generally over 65 to 70 years) depending on their state of health and especially if they have an underlying health issue
  • people taking a medicine that suppresses their immune system e.g. prednisone or cortisone
  • organ transplant patients.

Williams said there is no need for healthy adults to avoid certain foods.

“You don’t have to miss out on your favorite foods as Listeria is easily killed by cooking so, for example, you can easily add ham to a pizza, feta to a quiche or smoked salmon to fully cooked scrambled eggs. Just remember that cooked foods can easily become re-contaminated through poor food handling after cooking. For foods that can’t be cooked you can make other choices such as using fresh whole lettuce for salads rather than bagged lettuce,” she said.

However, for those at risk of Listeria infection they should avoid or cook these foods:

  • Unpackaged ready to eat meats from delicatessen counters and sandwich bars; packaged, sliced RTE meats; cold cooked chicken purchased RTE, whole, diced or sliced and refrigerated paté or meat spreads
  • All soft, semi-soft and surface ripened cheeses e.g. brie, camembert, ricotta, feta and blue, unpasteurized dairy products (e.g. raw milk or cheeses) and soft serve ice cream
  • Pre-prepared or pre-packed cut fruit and vegetable salads e.g. salads sold in containers or from salad bars, shops or buffets, etc; pre-cut fruit and vegetables eaten raw; frozen fruit or vegetables not further cooked (e.g. berries, peas, sweet corn); rockmelon/cantaloupes (whole or cut); and bean or seed sprouts
  • Raw seafood (e.g. oysters, sashimi or sushi); smoked RTE seafood; RTE peeled prawns (cooked) e.g. in prawn cocktails, sandwich fillings; and prawn or seafood salads; and seafood extender.

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