The bacteria called Listeria are bad news. Eating food contaminated with Listeria can make you so sick that you have to be hospitalized. For certain vulnerable people, the illness can be fatal.
Listeria has been most recently linked to fresh produce, but past cases of Listeria have been connected to a variety of ready-to-eat foods. These foods include unpasteurized milk and dairy products, Mexican-style or soft cheeses made with unpasteurized milk, processed deli meats, hot dogs, smoked seafood, and store-prepared deli-salads.
Listeria can grow in the fridge
Unlike most bacteria, Listeria germs can grow and spread in the refrigerator. If you unknowingly refrigerate Listeria contaminated food, the germs could contaminate your refrigerator and spread to other foods, increasing the risk that you and your family will become sick.
Preventing the spread of Listeria
To prevent the spread of Listeria, wash all fruits and vegetables under running water just before eating, cutting, or cooking, even if you plan to peel the produce first. Scrub firm produce such as melons and cucumbers with a clean produce brush.
Check refrigerator and freezer temperature
Although Listeria can grow in the refrigerator, it grows more slowly at temperatures of 40 degrees F or less. Keep your refrigerator at 40 degrees F or lower and the freezer at 0 degrees F or lower. Place a refrigerator thermometer in the refrigerator and check the temperature periodically. If necessary, adjust the refrigerator temperature to keep foods as cold as possible without causing them to freeze. Place a second thermometer in the freezer to check the temperature there.
Keep the refrigerator clean
In addition to washing fresh produce and checking the temperature in the refrigerator, you can prevent spread of Listeria by keeping your refrigerator clean. Listeria can contaminate other foods through spills in the refrigerator. To protect refrigerated foods, wrap or cover with a sheet of plastic wrap or foil. Another option is to put foods in plastic bags or covered containers before refrigerating.
Use precooked and ready-to-eat foods as soon as possible. Longer storage times mean an extended opportunity for Listeria to grow. Check the use-by dates of processed meats like hot dogs and lunch meat.
Clean up all spills in your refrigerator right away, especially juices from hot dog and lunch meat packages, raw meat, and raw poultry. Use paper towels to avoid transferring germs from a cloth towel. Clean the inside walls and shelves of your refrigerator with warm water and liquid soap, then rinse. As an added measure of caution, you can sanitize your refrigerator monthly, just as you would kitchen surfaces.