There is no need to avoid any foods because of the current listeria scare –– simple hygiene will greatly minimise the risk of contracting the disease.
The serious bacterial infection found in soil, water, vegetation and animal products has claimed the lives of 36 people in South Africa in recent weeks, the health department announced on Tuesday.
While the department did not advise South Africans to abstain from certain foods, it did say that some foods have a higher risk than others of carrying listeriosis.
The most common contaminated foods are:
- raw (unpasteurised) milk –– in other words, not the type on supermarket shelves
- soft cheeses, if made from raw milk –– again, unlikely from commercial cheesemakers
- vegetables: raw vegetables can become contaminated either through contact with soil, or with animal manure that is used as fertiliser
- processed foods
- ready-to-eat meats
- smoked fish products
The disease is treatable and preventable. Health officials say the main preventative measure is good hygiene.
Here are their top tips:
- Keep clean: Wash your hands before and after handling food, and often during food preparation. Wash your hands after going to the toilet. Wash and sanitise all surfaces and equipment used for food preparation.
- Separate raw and cooked: Separate raw meat, poultry and seafood from cooked foods. If you're handling or storing raw food, don't touch already cooked food unless you have thoroughly washed your hands and food utensils.
- Cook thoroughly: Never eat half-cooked or uncooked food –– especially meat products. Food that does not usually need cooking before eating needs to be thoroughly washed with clean water –– and if you don't have running water, boil water before using it. Also boil foods like soups and stews, to make sure they have reached at least 70ºC.
- Keep food at safe temperatures: Food to be kept cold should be refrigerated promptly –– preferably at below 5ºC. Food to be served hot should be served hot. Do not store food too long in the refrigerator, and do not thaw frozen food at room temperature –– defrost it in the fridge, and then make sure it is reheated to above 70ºC.
- Use safe water and raw materials: Where pasteurisation is not possible, boil milk before use. Wash fruits and vegetables, especially if eaten raw, and do not eat food that is past its expiry date.