Listeria in Kansas: What you need to know

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In the last month, certain varieties of Sabra hummus and all Blue Bell Creamery products have been recalled due to concerns of Listeria contamination. These products have been pulled from KC-area shelves, and should be removed from your fridge at home.Here's what you need to know.Why is this important?Listeria is a bacterium responsible for a severe form of food poisoning called listeriosis. To be clear, listeriosis is NOT a common illness. In addition, there have been reports of otherwise healthy individuals eating Listeria-contaminated products with minimal to no symptoms. However, when certain susceptible individuals (infants, elderly, and immunocompromised) become infected, listeriosis can be life-threatening. Pregnant women are also more likely to develop listeriosis after exposure, which can cause harm to the fetus or newborn.Listeria is tricky bacterium. It is very "sticky" on the outside, so it can live on surfaces for a very long time. In addition, it can grow in conditions where other bacteria are unable to thrive. Due to the severity of the infection that Listeria may cause, food products and food production lines are commonly monitored by health authorities for its presence. So, what's the deal with the food recalls?In Kansas, health authorities recognized a pattern of unfortunate deaths caused by listeriosis at a local hospital. These deaths wereover a period of years, not a sudden cluster of infection, and determined to be caused by Blue Bell products. The recall is necessary as the company begins to identify the source of contamination in one of its many production plants. Listeria inSabrawas found during routine food product inspection. No illness or death has been directly reported by hummus-eaters.

I'm pregnant and I eat ice cream. 

Telling a pregnant woman that she should stop eating ice cream makes about as much sense as telling a toddler that she doesn't need to bathe. So, eat up. Outside of the Blue Bell Creamery products, there have been no other concerns about dangers of eating ice cream; within moderation, of course. :-)

If you are pregnant in KC and you have eaten Blue Bell ice cream, don't panic. Call your OB for next steps, which may likely beto do nothing.Unless you are showing signs of illness, it is unlikely you need to be medically tested or treated.  

What should I do now?

  • Check the fridge and dump recalled food items in the trash.
  • If your family has had a known exposure to the recalled food items, a healthy level of observation needs to be maintained. However, there is no need for intervention or evaluation on people who are not sick. Listeriosis kind of looks like meningitis - fever, body aches, headaches, neck pain, plus some gastrointestinal symptoms. Pregnant women often describe a flu-like illness with fever and diarrhea. Call your doc if you are worried.
  • Routine food-borne illness precautions are always in play --> Cook food well. Wash raw veggies. Avoid unpasteurized dairy products. Wash hands and cooking prep surfaces if exposed to uncooked foods.

Where can I go for more information?All you would ever want to know about Listeria can be found onthe CDC website.For more info on how to avoid infections during pregnancy, here's some insightfrom UpToDate.  And, of course, for advice specific to your family, give your doc a call.