If you love soft cheese, beware this deadly disease

If you love soft cheese, beware this deadly disease

Whole Foods has issued a huge recall of cheese after Listeria was detected -- and these recalls are not uncommon.

Whole Foods is scrambling to get a handle on a recent outbreak of a deadly bacteria thanks to contaminated cheese, issuing a recall at the behest of federal authorities. And while most people probably don’t think a lot about Listeria, you might be surprised at how common these outbreaks are — and if you’re a soft cheese lover, you may be most at risk.

That’s because Listeria is most commonly found in soft cheeses, where the bacteria thrives and waits to enter any poor soul that decides to ingest the wrong piece of cheese. Whole Foods recently opted to pull all Papillion Organic Roquefort cheeses from its shelves after Food and Drug Administration officials found Listeria Monocytogenes in a sample test from an uncut wheel of the cheese.

Listeria is actually extremely deadly — it’s fatal in a whopping 21 percent of cases. Mostly, it impacts young children, the elderly, and people with compromised immune systems, although it can also cause miscarriages in pregnant women.

It’s not quite clear how many people the recent Whole Foods outbreak has sickened, as Listeria has an incubation period of up to 60 days, making it very difficult to track. Its symptoms include high fever, headaches and stiffness, abdominal pain, and diarrhea.

Listeria outbreaks happen all the time, and are a fairly common cause of food recalls. How can you avoid it? Mostly by handling and storing foods properly and in accordance with FDA standards, and hoping the grocery store you shop at doesn’t sell you tainted cheese.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a total of 1,651 Listeria cases were reported between 2009 and 2011, with a fatality rate of about 21 percent.

Listeria was first recognized as a foodborne illness back in the 1980s. It was named after Joseph Lister, a pioneering surgeon from England.

While soft cheeses are the most common vehicle for Listeria infection, it can come from many types of food, so precaution is always a good idea — after all, there are many other disease you can get outside of Listeria from tainted food.



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