WORRIED ABOUT LISTERIOSIS
Q: I’m two months pregnant and so worried about this listeriosis thing that has been in the news lately. I’ve read that pregnant women should not eat deli meat, but I don’t even know what that means, so I’ve been avoiding all meat, but surely that can’t be good either. Please tell me what to do, and what information I can trust and what I can eat or not when it comes to meat. Is chicken also affected? A: Sister Burgie answers: Pregnancy is a good reason to be worried about the listeriosis outbreak. Listeria monocytogenes are bacteria that’s found everywhere – in the ground, water and animals including cattle, unpasteurised milk and chicken. Meat and milk processing factories have to maintain high standards of cleanliness so that bacteria (including listeria) do not contaminate machinery that in turn, cross-contaminate processed meats and cheeses (those that use raw or unpasteurised milk) and ultimately infect consumers. The body’s immune system is constantly under attack by environmental microbes. Saliva and strong stomach acid helps to kill a bacterium before it can make people sick. But when there’s an outbreak of an infectious disease, and a person’s immune system is weakened, like during pregnancy, becoming infected can be dangerous – even fatal. Listeriosis has recently been found in polony, hot-dog sausages and chicken throughout South Africa but mostly in Gauteng. Because this bacterium is resistant to cold temperatures, it can multiply in fridges and cold-storage facilities and spread from contaminated food to machinery and equipment, from packages to kitchen surfaces and uncontaminated food that’s kept in the fridge. Unlike viral infections that are most dangerous during the first trimester (three months) listeriosis is dangerous for an unborn baby throughout a woman’s pregnancy. Infected pregnant women may only have mild symptoms of food poisoning, such as vomiting, diarrhoea and abdominal cramps (or not feel sick at all) – but the infection can cause serious complications for her unborn baby. These include miscarriage or stillbirth, prematurity, a small-for-dates baby or neonatal sepsis. What you can do: See your doctor if you have a tummy bug with any diarrhoea, vomiting or flu-like symptoms. Listeriosis is treated with antibiotics.
Avoid high-risk foods
Hot dogs, polony and all cold meats Soft cheeses made with unpasteurised milk Meat spreads and pâtés Refrigerated and smoked seafood (unless it can be boiled e.g. kippers) Only eat cooked food and food that looks, smells and tastes good. Food should be cooked right through, and served still hot.
Keep your kitchen listeria-free
Wash cooking utensils, crockery and cutlery in hot soapy water after using. Scrub cutting boards and wipe kitchen surfaces with a disinfectant. Bleach can be diluted one teaspoonful for every one litre of water. Soak dishcloths and kitchen towels in diluted bleach. Wash fruit and vegetables. Separate raw and cooked foods in your fridge to prevent crosscontamination. Avoid cross-contamination by covering leftover food in the fridge and eat it within two days. Make sure that all food is reheated until it is very hot or boiling. If you have a thermometer, check the temperature of reheated food. It should be above 74 degrees Celsius.
Keep fridge temperature at 4°C and freezer at -18°C. Wipe fridge spills immediately. Clean your fridge regularly.
When you go shopping
Check sell-by dates. Don’t buy cold-meat or sausages on special. Use pre-cooked and ready-to-eat meals on the day you bought them. If you’re worried that you bought contaminated meat or chicken, throw away your plastic shopping bags and wash linen bags.
When preparing food
Wash your hands before cooking, after using the loo and before eating.