Public health officials are encouraging consumers to take steps to reduce their risk of listeria infection after recent outbreaks of the foodborne illness.

“Listeria is a type of bacteria that can be found in food products, and can cause quite serious foodborne illness in certain populations,” says Dr. Nipunie Rajapakse, a Mayo Clinic infectious diseases specialist.

Rajapakse says the most common foods that listeria infection is associated with are usually deli meats, hot dogs, and products that are refrigerated for a prolonged period of time. “Listeria is one of the few bacteria that likes to divide at low temperatures. That’s why we see this being a problem in foods that are refrigerated.”

Symptoms of listeria infection include: fever, muscle aches, nausea and diarrhea.

Simple food safety precautions, such as good hand hygiene, scrubbing raw fruits and vegetables, and ensuring food is thoroughly cooked, can help prevent infection.

Women who are pregnant, and those with a weak immune system should take these precautions to avoid listeria infection:

  • Do not eat soft cheeses unless it’s clear from the packaging that the product was made using pasteurized milk.
  • Avoid hot dogs and luncheon meats unless they’re reheated until steaming hot. Wash your hands after handling such uncooked meats.
  • Don’t eat refrigerated pates or meat spreads.
  • Don’t eat refrigerated smoked seafood.

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— Mayo Clinic News Network (TNS)