Food safety suspects: Listeria causes the most food recalls in Australia

October 10, 2015

Recently, Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) released an annual report regarding food safety operations. During the 2014 and 2015, FSANZ detailed 58 food recalls across Australia and New Zealand – most with connections to microbial contamination or allergens. Of these recalls, the most common pathogen was Listeria Monocytogenes.

Though the data suggests that unsafe food recalls were down 8 cases on the year before, twenty of the recent recalls were caused as a result of undeclared pathogens, 12 by foreign matter, and 19 by pathogens.

Among the recalls for microbial contamination, three were due to Salmonella, one was Staphylococcus, one was E. coli, two were viral, and Listeria Monocytogenes caused eight.

Listeria Monocytogenes

Listeria Monocytogenes is a form of microorganism that can contaminate food and cause an infection called “listeriosis”. Listeria bacteria is very common and can contaminate many different types of foods throughout the food production process – all the way from the farm, to the retail market.

Typically, the organism isn’t highly damaging to healthy people, but more severe reactions can occur in individuals that are already immune-compromised. For example, babies, young children, pregnant women, cancer patients and the elderly. These people can all experience listeriosis more severely. For expectant mothers, a severe case of listeriosis can result in miscarriage or premature birth.

Protecting food from Listeria

As an organism, Listeria is not new. How food is stored, handled and served will determine the chance of listeria bacteria reaching a dangerous level in food. Research has found that ready-to-eat foods stored at refrigeration temperature provide the highest degree of risk.

While preventing contamination throughout various aspects of food production is important, it’s crucial to ensure that special precautions are taken after foods are processed, and in all stages of handling before it is consumed.

To lower the risk of listeria contamination, Better Health Victoria recommends that you should take care to:

  • Wash your hands before preparing food, and between handling raw food and ready-to-eat foods
  • Wash raw fruit and vegetables well before eating
  • Cook all foods of animal origin, including eggs, thoroughly
  • Don’t use the same boards and knives for cooked foods that you used for raw foods unless they have been washed in warm, soapy water
  • Defrost food by placing it on the lower shelves of the fridge or use a microwave.