Listeria monocytogenes is a bacterium that causes a severe foodborne illness known as listeriosis which can lead to life-threatening infections in pregnant women, children, the elderly, and people with compromised immune systems. If you contracted listeriosis from eating contaminated food, our team of top-rated food poisoning lawyers can help you recover the compensation you deserve.
What is Listeriosis?
Listeriosis is a severe infection caused by the germ Listeria monocytogenes, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). People typically get sick with listeriosis after eating contaminated food. The disease primarily affects pregnant women, newborns, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems.
What are the Symptoms of Listeria?
Listeriosis symptoms vary depending on the form of infection and may include:
- Muscle aches
- Severe headache
- Stiff neck
- Loss of balance
Pregnant women, the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems have an increased risk of developing more severe listeriosis symptoms, including:
- Inflammation of the brain (encephalitis)
- Inflammation of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord (meningitis)
- Infection of the blood
Source: Food and Drug Administration (FDA) 
How Do Doctors Check For Listeria?
Since listeria monocytogenes infections share common symptoms with other foodborne illnesses, such as E. coli/salmonella, and because detecting the bacteria requires a blood test, doctors may not properly diagnose listeriosis for each patient hospitalized with the disease. Compared with other foodborne pathogens, however, the rate of detection for listeria is actually quite high, according to Robert Buchanan, Ph.D., director of the University of Maryland’s Center for Food Safety and Security Systems. He said that estimates suggest listeria is accurately diagnosed in 1 of every 2 medical cases, whereas salmonella infection diagnoses are likely closer to 1 in 30.
“If you get a severe case of listeriosis infection, it almost always involves hospitalization,” Buchanan said. “Once you’re in there and they start looking around, the probability of them finding it is pretty high.”
How Do Doctors Diagnose a Listeria Illness?
A blood test is often the most effective way to determine whether you have a listeria infection, according to the Mayo Clinic . In some cases, samples of urine or spinal fluid will be tested as well. To help confirm the diagnosis, your doctor might ask if you've recently eaten:
- Soft cheeses, such as brie, Camembert or feta, or Mexican-style cheeses, such as queso blanco or queso fresco
- Raw milk or cheeses made of raw (unpasteurized) milk
- Processed meats, such as hot dogs or deli meats
- Any foods that have been recalled
Recent Listeria Food Poisoning Outbreaks / Recalls
- Fresh Express Salad Recall - Fresh Express recalled dozens of varieties of its branded and private label salad products produced at the company’s Streamwood, Illinois facility after at least 10 people developed listeria infections.
- Tyson Foods Chicken - In July 2022, the CDC and FSIS began collecting different types of data to investigate a multi-state outbreak of Listeria monocytogenes infections linked to frozen, fully cooked chicken products supplied by Tyson Foods Inc.
- Queso Fresco – Listeriosis - At least 11 listeria infections, 10 hospitalizations, and 1 death in 4 states linked to contaminated El Abuelito, Rio Grande, and Rio Lindo cheeses. On Feb. 27, 2022, El Abuelito Cheese Inc. recalled quesillo and requeson cheeseses due to the listeria outbreak.
- Deli Meats – Listeriosis - 12 people infected with a listeria outbreak linked to Italian-style deli meats (salami, mortadella, prosciutto) were reported from Florida, Louisiana, Massachusetts, and New York. All 12 people were hospitalized. One death was reported from Florida.
- Enoki Mushrooms – Listeriosis - 36 people from 17 states were infected with an outbreak strain of Listeria monocytogenes linked to enoki mushrooms supplied by Green Co. LTD from the Republic of Korea. At least 31 hospitalizations were reported; 4 deaths were reported from California (2), Hawaii, and New Jersey.
- Hard-boiled Eggs – Listeriosis - 8 people from 5 states were infected with an outbreak strain of Listeria monocytogenes linked to hard-boiled eggs. Of 7 ill people with information available, 5 hospitalizations were reported and 1 death was reported from Texas. One illness was reported in a newborn who was infected with listeria while the mother was pregnant, but the newborn survived.
- Deli-Sliced Meats and Cheeses – Listeriosis - 10 people from 4 states were infected with an outbreak strain of listeria linked to various meats and cheeses sliced at deli counters. All 10 were hospitalized, and 1 death was reported from Michigan.
What Should You Do If You Have Listeria?
You should seek medical care and tell the doctor about eating possibly contaminated food if you have a fever and other symptoms of listeriosis, such as headache, stiff neck, confusion and muscle aches, within 2 months after eating potentially contaminated food. This is especially important if you are pregnant, age 65 or older, or have a compromised immune system.
If you ate food that was potentially contaminated with listeria and do not feel sick, you may not require tests or treatment, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Talk with your medical provider if you have questions about what to do after eating possibly contaminated food.
Listeria and Pregnancy
During the first trimester of pregnancy, listeriosis may cause pregnant women to miscarry. As the pregnancy progresses to the third trimester, pregnant women are the most at risk from serious infection. Listeriosis can also lead to premature labor, the delivery of a low-birth-weight infant, or infant death.
Fetuses who have a late infection may develop a wide range of health problems, including intellectual disability, paralysis, seizures, blindness, or defects of the brain, heart, or kidney. In newborns, L. monocytogenes can cause blood infections and meningitis. If you are pregnant and have symptoms of listeriosis, you should contact your obstetrician-gynecologist (ob-gyn) or other health care provider immediately. Remember that it can take 2 months for symptoms to appear.
More Advice for Pregnant Women
To help prevent listeriosis, pregnant women should avoid eating the following foods:
- Unpasteurized milk and foods made with unpasteurized milk, including soft cheeses
- Hot dogs and luncheon meats, unless they are heated until steaming hot just before serving
- Refrigerated pâté and meat spreads
- Refrigerated smoked seafood
- Unwashed raw produce such as fruits and vegetables
Pregnant women should avoid all raw and undercooked seafood, eggs, meat, and poultry. Do not eat sushi made with raw fish (cooked sushi is safe). Cooking and pasteurization are the only ways to kill listeria.
Source: American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) 
What Happens if Listeria is Untreated?
Most listeria infections are so mild they can go unnoticed. However, in some cases, listeria infection can lead to life-threatening complications, including generalized blood infections and inflammation of the membranes and fluid surrounding the brain (meningitis). To prevent a listeria infection, use these simple food safety guidelines:
- Keep things clean - Wash your hands thoroughly with warm, soapy tap water before and after handling or preparing food. After cooking, use hot, soapy water to wash the utensils, cutting boards, and other food preparation surfaces.
- Scrub raw vegetables - Clean raw vegetables with a scrub brush or vegetable brush under plenty of running water.
- Cook your food thoroughly - Use a food thermometer to make sure your meat, poultry, and egg dishes are cooked to a safe temperature.
Source: Mayo Clinic 
Does Washing Get Rid of Listeria?
Proper cooking or washing of fruits and vegetables normally kills most bacteria that can cause listeria food poisoning, according to Forbes . However, people who are sensitive to listeria are very susceptible to infection. For these individuals, listeria can cause severe illness or even death.
As mentioned earlier, newborns and young children, frail or elderly persons, and people with compromised immune systems are among these sensitive groups. Some examples of people with suppressed immune systems include those with cancer (including leukemia), HIV/AIDS, diabetes, liver or kidney disease, an organ transplant, and anyone on a drug like prednisone or cortisone, as these work by suppressing the immune system.
How Do Doctors Treat Listeria Infections?
For minor infections with Listeria monocytogenes, medication may not be required. For more severe cases of listeriosis, antibiotics are the most common treatment choice; ampicillin can be used alone or in conjunction with another antibiotic (often gentamicin). If septicemia or meningitis occurs, the patient will be given intravenous antibiotics and require up to 6 weeks of care and treatment.
How Common is Listeria?
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were 1,651 reported cases of listeriosis between 2011 and 2019. The case fatality rate was 21%. Cases of listeria were much higher for adults aged 65 and older and pregnant women. Many of the reported outbreaks affected people in multiple states. For example, 12 listeriosis outbreaks combined to affect 224 patients in 38 states. Five of the largest and most recent outbreaks resulted from soft cheeses made from pasteurized milk that was contaminated.
There are 3 simple things you can do to help prevent a listeria infection:
- Chill at the Right Temperature - The right temperatures slow the growth of listeria bacteria. Put a thermometer in the refrigerator and adjust the temperature control, if necessary. Put a second thermometer in the freezer. Your refrigerator should be set at 40°F (4°C) or below and your freezer at 0°F (-18°C).
- Use Ready-to-Eat Foods Quickly - Use ready-to-eat, refrigerated foods by the Use By date on the package. The longer they’re stored in the refrigerator, the more chance listeria has to grow.
- Keep the refrigerator Clean - Clean your refrigerator regularly. Wipe up spills immediately so Listeria doesn’t have a place to grow and then spread to other foods. Clean the inside walls and shelves with hot water and a mild liquid dishwashing detergent, rinse, then dry with a clean cloth or paper towel.
Source: Food and Drug Administration (FDA) 
Do I Need a Listeria Lawyer? Free Listeria Poisoning Lawsuit Review.
The Food Poisoning Litigation Group at our law firm is an experienced team of trial lawyers that focus on the representation of plaintiffs in listeria lawsuits. Our law firm is handling individual litigation nationwide and currently accepting new food poisoning cases in all 50 states.
If you or a loved one has experienced symptoms of listeria illness, please contact our law firm immediately for a free consultation. You may be entitled to a settlement by filing a listeria food poisoning lawsuit and our attorneys can help.
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