About Listeria

From the nation’s leading law firm representing victims of listeria and other foodborne illness outbreaks.

Chapter 1

Listeria Food Poisoning

What is Listeria and how does it cause food poisoning?

Listeria (pronounced liss-STEER-ē-uh) is a gram-positive rod-shaped bacterium that can grow under either anaerobic (without oxygen) or aerobic (with oxygen) conditions. [4, 18] Of the six species of Listeria, only L. monocytogenes (pronounced maw-NO-site-aw-JUH-neez) causes disease in humans. [18] These bacteria multiply best at 86-98.6 degrees F (30-37 degrees C), but also multiply better than all other bacteria at refrigerator temperatures, something that allows temperature to be used as a means of differentiating Listeria from other contaminating bacteria. [18]

Called an “opportunistic pathogen,” Listeria is noted to cause an estimated 2,600 cases per year of severe invasive illness. [26] Perhaps not surprisingly then, “foodborne illness caused by Listeria monocytogenes has raised significant public health concern in the United States, Europe, and other areas of the world.” [3] As one noted expert observed, summarizing the history of these bacteria and their significance for public health:

Although L. monocytogenes was recognized as an animal pathogen over 80 years ago, the first outbreak confirming an indirect transmission from animals to humans was reported only in 1983, in Canada's Maritime provinces. In that outbreak, cabbages, stored in the cold over the winter, were contaminated with Listeria through exposure to infected sheep manure. A subsequent outbreak in California in 1985 confirmed the role of food in disseminating listeriosis. Since then Listeria has been implicated in many outbreaks of food-borne illness, most commonly from exposure to contaminated dairy products and prepared meat products, including turkey and deli meats, pâté, hot dogs and seafood and fish. [4]

Given its widespread presence in the environment and food supply, the ingestion of Listeria has been described as an “exceedingly common occurrence.” [18]

Next Chapter

The Incidence of Listeria Infections

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