Q: Every time I pick up the paper it seems there’s some mention that a food is contaminated with deadly bacteria. Now it’s apple slices; before it was melons and spinach. What’s going on, and what can I do to protect my family? – Charlene J., Charleston, N.C.
A: The apple slices (melons, etc.) were infected with bacteria called listeria (not E. coli or salmonella, the other food-borne bacteria that cause trouble). Listeria can cause gastrointestinal problems and spread through the body, triggering sepsis, meningitis, fever, aches and pains, confusion, loss of balance and even convulsions. This infection generally hits the elderly, those with weakened immune systems, pregnant women, their fetuses and newborns. In 2011, listeria-contaminated melons made 146 people sick; 30 died. Recently, fast-food chains removed contaminated apple slices from most outlets.
If you want to protect your family from listeria (and other food-borne infections), follow these safety tips.
1. Thoroughly rinse raw fruits and vegetables before eating, cutting, peeling or cooking.
2. In the fridge, keep cooked and uncooked foods separated, and all produce separate from meats. Listeria can grow in the fridge – unless it is 40 F or below. Check the temperature regularly with a thermometer. And clean up all spills in the fridge immediately.
3. Counters and cutting boards should be washed with soap before and after putting uncooked foods on them.
4. Wash your hands with soap for 20 seconds after touching and preparing any food.
5. Don’t hang on to leftovers and deli-sliced meats for more than four days.
6. Pregnant women should avoid all packaged meats, hot dogs and smoked fish.
7. You can’t know for sure that restaurant foods are infection-free, but try to stick to healthy, fresh foods prepared in a clean environment.
– Dr. Michael Roizen & Dr. Mehmet Oz
© 2012 Michael Roizen, M.D. and Mehmet Oz, M.D. Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.