Listeriosis

[lis-teer-ee-o-sis]

Cold cuts on cutting board

Listeriosis is a serious foodborne illness (sometimes called “food poisoning”). People usually become ill with listeriosis after eating food contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes bacteria. The disease primarily affects pregnant women and their newborns, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems. Keep yourself and your loved ones safe from listeriosis and other foodborne illnesses by following CDC’s recommendations for people at higher risk for infection and the four basic steps to food safety – Clean, Separate, Cook, and Chill.

Quiz

Key Facts

  • Listeria strikes hard at pregnant women and their newborns, adults aged 65 or older, and people with weakened immune systems due to certain underlying medical conditions – such as cancer, diabetes, liver or kidney disease, alcoholism, and HIV/AIDS – or the treatment of these conditions.
  • Pregnant women with listeriosis can pass the infection to their fetus, which can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, premature delivery, or life-threatening infection of the newborn.
  • Certain foods are more likely to contain Listeria. These foods are
    • queso fresco and other soft cheeses made from raw (unpasteurized) milk,
    • raw sprouts,
    • melons,
    • hot dogs, refrigerated pâtés, lunch meats, cold cuts, and fermented or dry sausages,
    • refrigerated smoked seafood, and
    • raw (unpasteurized) milk and products made from raw milk.
  • Listeriosis can cause a variety of symptoms, depending on whether the person is pregnant and the part of the body affected.
    • Pregnant women typically experience only fever and other flu-like symptoms themselves, such as fatigue and muscle aches, but the infection can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, premature delivery, or life-threatening infection of the newborn.
    • Other people may experience fever and muscle aches and may have a headache, stiff neck, diarrhea, confusion, loss of balance, and convulsions.
  • If you ate food possibly contaminated with Listeria and do not feel sick, most experts believe you do not need tests or treatment.
  • If you ate food possibly contaminated with Listeria and have symptoms of infection within two months, you should seek medical care, especially if you are pregnant, aged 65 or older, or have a weakened immune system.
  • You can take steps to prevent listeriosis, which is especially important if you or someone you prepare food for has an increased chance of infection.

Media

Woman in hospital bed with family and newborn
What Is Listeriosis?

Listeriosis is a serious infection usually caused by eating food contaminated with Listeria bacteria.

Pregnant woman
People at Risk

Listeria is most likely to sicken pregnant women and their newborns, adults aged 65 or older, and people with weakened immune systems.

Woman washing carrots
Pregnant Women Are Especially at Risk

Pregnant women are 10 times more likely than other people to get Listeria infection. The risk increases to 24 times more likely than others for pregnant Hispanic women.

Woman going through chemo
Listeria Is a Harmful Germ that Can Hide in Many Foods

Outbreaks of Listeria infections in the 1990s were primarily linked to deli meats and hot dogs. Now, Listeria outbreaks are often linked to dairy products and produce.

Prevention Tips

  • Follow CDC’s food safety recommendations when it comes to foods that are more likely to contain Listeria.
  • Learn the four basic steps of food safety: Clean, Separate, Cook, and Chill.
  • Wash your hands, utensils, and surfaces before, during, and after preparing food and before eating to help stop the spread of germs to your food and loved ones.
  • Keep raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs separate from ready-to-eat foods at the grocery store, in your refrigerator, and when preparing and serving food.
  • Use a food thermometer to be sure food is cooked to its safe minimum internal temperature.
  • Thoroughly rinse peeled and unpeeled fruits and vegetables under running tap water before eating, cutting, or cooking.
  • Clean up all spills in your refrigerator right away – especially juices from hot dog and lunch meat packages, raw meat, and raw poultry.
  • Only consume pasteurized milk and milk products, including soft cheese, ice cream, and yogurt. Look for the word “pasteurized” on the label. If in doubt, don’t buy it!
  • Refrigerate perishable food within 2 hours, or 1 hour if the outside temperature is 90°F or warmer.
  • Set the temperature in your refrigerator at or below 40°F and the freezer at or below 0°F.
  • Be extra careful when preparing food for people more likely to get listeriosis.

More Information

Page last reviewed: May 27, 2020