Listeria: The Unwanted BBQ Guest

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Listeria: The Unwanted BBQ Guest

Keep foodborne illnesses at bay

It’s summer time! Break out the swimsuit, sunglasses, sandals and grill. Not only is summer peak season for backyard barbecues, it is also prime time for foodborne illnesses. Bacteria grow fast at warmer temperatures and can make you sick—leaving you with not so good memories of your family barbecue this summer.

Listeria monocytogenes is a dangerous bacterium that you should be on the lookout for all year round, especially in the summer months. Listeria can cause a foodborne illness called listeriosis. It can grow at refrigeration temperatures and is one of the deadliest foodborne illnesses.

Pregnant women are more likely to be affected by listeria than healthy people. In fact, they are about 10 times more likely than the general population to get listeriosis. Listeria can be passed to your unborn baby, even when you show no sign of sickness. It can lead to premature delivery, miscarriage, stillbirth and death in newborns.

During pregnancy, it is important to be aware of the foods you are eating. Listeria is commonly found in ready-to-eat foods. These foods include:

Soft-ripened cheeses (traditional Mexican-style cheeses, camembert, brie, feta and ricotta)
Raw vegetables
Store-brought salads (ham, chicken, tuna and seafood)
Deli meats
Hot dogs
If these foods can’t be reheated or cooked, pregnant women should avoid eating them.

Hot dogs are a certainty at any barbecue. For this reason, it is important to keep listeria from lurking in your hot dogs, especially for pregnant guests, their unborn babies and newborns. Here are a few tips to keep your grilled hot dogs in tip-top shape:

Never eat hot dogs straight out the package as a pre-BBQ snack. Hot dogs must always be heated to 165°F or higher before eaten.
Wash hands after handling hot dogs from the package.
Avoid getting hot dog juice from the package on other foods, utensils or preparation surfaces.
After grilling hot dogs, keep the temperature at 140°F or higher until served.
Make sure leftover hot dogs are refrigerated or put on ice two hours after they are removed from the grill or one hour if the temperature is higher 90°F. When you reheat them, heat them to 165⁰F or higher.
Leftover hot dogs that have been refrigerated should be eaten within three to four days.
Properly cooking hot dogs will help keep listeria from making a surprise appearance at your backyard BBQ.

Crystal McDade-Ngutter, Ph.D