Arizona may not be among six states experiencing an outbreak of disease from listeria bacteria linked to brands of cheese sold nationwide, but the episode provides a reminder about the importance of taking steps to avoid foodborne illness.
So far in 2022, there have been four cases of listeriosis in Arizona unrelated to the current outbreak. About 1,600 people in the U.S. get listeriosis each year, resulting in an average of 260 deaths, the CDC estimates. Americans 65 and older are four times as likely as others to get a listeria infection.
Listeriosis, the infection caused by eating food contaminated with the listeria bacteria, may cause serious and sometimes fatal illness in people 65 and older and those with weakened immune systems. Pregnant women and newborns are also at risk of serious infection.
Even though the American food supply is among the safest in the world, an estimated 128,000 people each year require a hospital stay because of foodborne illness, resulting in about 3,000 deaths.
Here are some simple steps to protect yourself and others from listeria and other causes of foodborne illnesses:
- Start with clean hands and clean equipment in the kitchen.
- Clean your produce before eating to remove potential contaminants.
- Separate foods to prevent cross-contamination. Don’t use the same utensils or cutting boards for uncooked chicken and other food items like vegetables you will eat raw, for example.
- Chill the leftovers within two hours to prevent bacteria from gaining a foothold.
- Wash your hands before and after handling raw meat and poultry.
Those most likely to have serious health concerns from foodborne illness, sometimes called food poisoning, are those younger than 5 or older than 65, as well as pregnant women and those with immune systems weakened by disease, chemotherapy, or dialysis.
Most foodborne illnesses happen suddenly and last for a short time. Symptoms may include cramping, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea.
To learn more about listeria and other causes of foodborne illness, as well as ways to protect yourself, please visit azhealth.gov/FoodborneDiseases.