The Times-Argus of Barre and Montpelier, Vermont, featured an article about Listeria monocytogenes, a foodborne pathogen. The article focuses on the need for specific populations (i.e. pregnant women, elderly people) to be aware of the risks Listeria poses to them, and on the importance of public knowledge about Listeria since it is present in many environments and can be a contaminant in processed foods.
Listeria emerged as a serious contamination problem in meat and poultry products in the 1980s. By 1999, an especially virulent strain of L. monocytogenes had evolved, alarming health officials and prompting them to urge food producers to clean up their act. When another disastrous outbreak occurred in 2002, the inspection service concluded that voluntary measures were not enough and more stringent regulations were needed.
Although the "interim final rule" for ready-to-eat meat and poultry products issued in 2003 has helped control exposure to the bacteria, it has clearly not eliminated it. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 2,500 people become seriously ill with listeriosis each year, and 500 people die of it.
Last year, in a further effort to protect the public, the Food and Drug Administration approved using an antiseptic spray to help control contamination of ready-to-eat meat and poultry products. The spray contains a mix of six bacteriophages, otherwise harmless viruses that destroy L. monocytogenes. Consumers cannot tell, however, whether this spray has been used, which means those at risk of serious listeria infections should continue to follow the guidelines below.