In the past year and change (since I started subscribing to the FDA Recall Alerts), I have received no fewer than 35 recall emails for foods contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.
Listeria can affect anyone, but is especially harmful to those who are pregnant or have weakened immune systems. But we never hear of someone getting sick from Listeria, do we? No- the bacteria manifests itself in the form of meningitis, miscarriages, stillbirths, cervical infections, and other life-threatening illnesses.
The recalls run the gamut on the food spectrum -- ranging from turkey and ham to cheese and butter; from bagged lettuce and cantaloupe to salmon and herring.
The only incident I remember garnering national media attention was the notorious Colorado cantaloupe case that killed 30 people and sickened 146 in September 2011. Other than that, the only news I ever hear of Listeria is from my Gmail inbox brought to me by my own overly neurotic and CAFO-obsessed self.
|FDA Recall Alerts in my Gmail inbox|
However, there have been journalists and food writers who have monitored the growth and expansion of the disease. Jane Brody from the New York Times, for example, wrote a revealing piece about Listeria in 2007. In the piece, Brody explains how these bacteria that grow in mammals, fish, and birds can be transmitted to humans:
L. monocytogenes is a ubiquitous organism found in soil and water. Vegetables can become contaminated from the soil or manure used as fertilizer. Farm animals can carry the bacteria without experiencing ill effects, and foods of animal origin, including meat, poultry and dairy products, can become contaminated.While the organism can be found in a variety of raw foods like uncooked meats, vegetables, unpasteurized milk and foods made from raw milk, processed ready-to-eat foods like cold cuts and cut-up vegetables can become tainted after processing.
Now the 35 recall alert emails are starting to make a lot more sense to me. Food safety groups, animal welfare groups, and even the USDA (shocking, I know) have all warned about the severity and prevalence of foodborne illnesses where large quantities of animals are confined in small and overcrowded places.
We have all heard about the E. coli that trickled down from the cow farm to the spinach field, or the salmonella-tainted chicken that wasn’t cooked long enough. Now we have another foodborne illness to add to the list. Listeria monocytogenes is certainly not a new pathogen, but it appears that as our farms grow, so do the outbreaks.