In 2006, I almost died after eating spinach contaminated with E. coli. I spent nearly a month in and out of multiple emergency rooms and urgent care facilities. When I was able to return home, I had lost nearly 20 percent of my total body weight, and my recovery lasted five additional months of continuous treatment.More info
Pregnant Women & Listeria: CDC Data Show High Rate of Infections for Expectant Moms
Data collected by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network (FoodNet) reveal a disturbingly high rate of Listeria infections among pregnant women—nearly 13 times higher than the general population. From 2004 through 2009, more than one-third (385) of Listeria infections during pregnancy occurred among Hispanic women.
CDC Vital Signs: Protecting People From Deadly Listeria Poisoning
More on Listeria
Listeria infections are rare but can lead to serious complications during pregnancy, including miscarriage or stillbirth, premature labor, and life-threatening illness in newborn infants. Pregnant women can protect their babies by learning what foods to avoid and how to safely prepare and store foods that have a higher risk of Listeria contamination.
Most people diagnosed with Listeria infections require hospital care, and about 1 in 6 die. This dangerous bacterium has been found in processed meats (such as deli meats, hot dogs, and meat spreads), raw (unpasteurized) milk, soft cheeses, smoked seafood, and some kinds of fresh produce. In 2011, Listeria contamination of cantaloupes sickened 147 people in 28 states, and resulted in a reported 33 deaths and one miscarriage.
Foodborne diseases have been known to disproportionately affect children and the elderly, but expectant mothers are at a particularly higher risk for Listeria infection because their immune systems are weaker during pregnancy. Additionally, fetuses and newborns are at increased risk for Listeria infections because Listeria can cross the placenta. Although pregnant women typically only experience mild flu-like symptoms from the foodborne illness, fetuses and newborns often have severe infections because their immune systems are not fully developed.
According to a CDC article published in June 2012 in the journal, Clinical Infectious Diseases, nearly one-in-three cases of Listeria infections in pregnant women resulted in fetal loss or neonatal death from 2004 to 2009. Among those newborns with infections, 44 percent were stricken by meningitis, an inflammation of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord that can result in hospitalization, neurological damage and death.
In addition, the new CDC information points out that Hispanic women are at an even higher risk, likely due to dietary habits. The research determines that although it is not possible to specifically identify the product that caused the infections, there is high consumption of foods connected to past Listeria outbreaks, such as “Mexican-style cheeses,” which are cited in 58 percent of cases involving Hispanic pregnant women versus 16 percent of non-Hispanic pregnant women.
Most Listeria cases are sporadic, not part of recognized outbreaks
A foodborne outbreak occurs when two or more people get the same illness from the same contaminated food or drink. According to the CDC foodborne outbreak database, between 2004 and 2009, there were 15 U.S. foodborne outbreaks caused by Listeria, resulting in 98 illnesses, 73 hospitalizations and nine deaths.
The proportion of Listeria infections during pregnancy that ended in miscarriage, stillbirth or neonatal deaths from 2004 through 2009.
Over the course of the same six years, FoodNet, which conducts surveillance of a series of foodborne diseases including Listeria and represents just 15 percent of the U.S. population, identified 762 sporadic cases of infection (isolated illnesses that were not linked to an outbreak). Out of 760 cases with information available, more than 90 percent of the victims were hospitalized.
Sporadic cases and outbreaks are only the tip of the iceberg. CDC estimates that nearly 1,600 Listeria illnesses are contracted each year in the United States due to exposure to this bacterium in foods. The underdiagnosis is due in part to the fact that laboratory tests do not always detect the organism. Similarly, miscarriages or neonatal deaths caused by this infection may go undiagnosed.
According to CDC estimates, 19 percent of related deaths caused by foodborne illness could be attributed to Listeria, making it the third most deadly disease-causing bacteria, behind only Salmonella and Toxoplasma gondii.
Surveillance and control of Listeria in foods
Established in 1995, FoodNet is a collaborative program among CDC, 10 state health departments, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service (USDA-FSIS) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). FoodNet personnel located at state health departments regularly contact clinical laboratories to get reports of infections diagnosed in residents of these areas; by doing so, FoodNet is able to identify all Listeria cases (even cases that are not part of any recognized outbreak). This information is extremely important to better quantify the impact of foodborne illnesses in the United States, monitor trends over time, identify how and which foods are causing illnesses and disseminate information that can lead to improvements in public health practice and the development of interventions to reduce the burden of foodborne illness.
Foods linked to Listeria infections:
In addition to FoodNet, CDC has a special surveillance program, called the Listeria Initiative, to aid in the investigation of Listeria outbreaks. Through this initiative, a standardized questionnaire is used to interview any Listeria patient reported to state public health departments.
By using a standardized questionnaire, interviewing patients as soon as they are diagnosed, and ensuring that all Listeria strains are tested to identify their DNA fingerprint, more outbreaks are detected. Data generated by outbreak investigations help identify the contaminated food source responsible for illnesses and can guide industry practices and government policy decisions.
Although Listeria-related infections decreased from 1989 through 2000, no similar improvement has been seen since. This lack of progress has occurred despite industry and government efforts to curb illnesses related to ready-to-eat meats (e.g., deli meats and other foods that do not require cooking). The lack of any reduction in Listeria-related infections since 2000 suggests that improved industry and regulatory strategies are needed.
This graph was compiled using data provided by the CDC.
When you spice up your food, you may be adding filth with flavor, according to a new report by the Food and Drug Administration. The FDA found that 12 percent of imported spices are contaminated with insect parts, rodent hairs, animal feces and other debris like twigs, plastic and rubber bands. Nearly 7 percent of the tests turned up Salmonella.More info
Food safety advocates are urging members of a House-Senate conference committee to strike down a pair of GOP-backed amendments to the farm bill now under consideration. The Make Our Food Safe Coalition and the Safe Food Coalition take exception at a pair of measures attached to the House’s version of the legislation, approved in July.More info
The Make our Food Safe Coalition and the Safe Food Coalition sent a letter expressing opposition to actions that would further delay implementation of the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act to Frank Lucas (R-OK), Chair of Overall Farm Bill Conference. The correspondence, which went to all Farm Bill Conferees as well, voiced concerns specifically with amendments offered by Representative Steve King (R-IA) and Representative Dan Benishek (R-MI).More info
The government shutdown has caused staff reductions at two important federal health agencies, increasing the risk of serious harm to American consumers from food-borne illnesses. The two agencies — the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — have decided to focus their remaining resources on imminent threats. But they have shut down very important work that allows them to spot potentially serious problems in advance and take steps to head them off. The longer Congressional Republicans allow the shutdown to continue, the greater the danger of harm.More info
The following Q&A—prepared by the food and medical products programs at The Pew Charitable Trusts–helps explain how the federal government shutdown is affecting the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and other agencies and departments with responsibility to protect the public’s health.More info
"Six years ago, I learned a painful lesson. I bought Veggie Booty for our triplets, who were 20 months old at the time. That purchase ultimately opened my eyes to the need for better oversight of food that comes from abroad."More info
Consumers across the United States are demanding meat and poultry raised without antibiotics—and large producers, restaurants, and other institutions are listening. Following is a list of some leading companies offering responsibly produced food.More info
"The public will have its first chance Thursday and Friday to weigh in on new federal rules aimed at improving the safety of food imported into the United States. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration's first public meeting on imported food safety rules that the agency initially proposed in July is taking place in Washington, D.C."More info
On Thursday, February 28 and Friday, March 1, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will hold public hearings in Washington, D.C., on FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) draft rules released earlier this year. The public will also have the opportunity to testify at agency meetings in Chicago and Portland on March 11-12 and March 27-28, respectively.More info
"For three days after Merrill Behnke ate the tainted Italian cheese she felt fine. On the fourth night, Behnke developed an intense headache. She awoke the next morning to severe body pains and a temperature of 102 degrees. A lumbar tap and a CT scan indicated meningitis. A test of her spinal fluid linked the illness to Listeria, a rare but deadly bacterium. Behnke, 31, will recount her bout with food poisoning in Washington, D.C., Thursday at a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) hearing on how to ensure that foods from abroad are safe."More info
"As we have become a nation of aspirational gourmets, we like to import our coffee beans, cheeses and wines. We want them to be exotic, connoting adventure and an appreciation for the extraordinary. Thanks to globalization, an increasing number of less-fancy foods are imported, too. But there is a problem with this bounty. We want to eat well and not die of food poisoning."More info
"Proposed new rules aimed at improving the safety of imported food were bottled up so long that some advocates were worried that the Obama administration had lost the political will to put them into effect."More info
"As a physician in Aurora training to care for children with injuries or illnesses that impact their ability to move, I am used to helping my patients recover from all sorts of ailments; spinal cord injury, cancer, and neurologic disorders. However, I was surprised to learn about another extraordinarily common health threat that may bring patients to my hospital: food-borne illness."More info