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The UK Food Standards Agency this month released new guidelines on protecting vulnerable groups from listeriosis – an infection brought about by contact with the relatively rare listeria bacteria.

The guidelines follow in the wake of the tragic death of 53-year-old grandmother, Julie Hemmings, who died after contracting food poisoning at a carvery.

Although the inquest into Mrs¬†Hemmings’ death has yet to reveal the nature of her poisoning, the new guidelines emphasise the importance of cooperation between retailers, caterers and food handlers in ensuring the protection of at-risk groups. Tough compliance measures, from producer to consumer, are the best way to avoid incidents.

Who might belong to an ‘at-risk’ group?

Most healthy adults should be able to fight off a listeriosis attack. However, individuals with a weakened immune system are vulnerable to complications after contact with the bacteria. The NHS identifies four groups as at-risk:

– Over 65s

– Pregnant women and their unborn babies

– Babies less than one month old

– People with a weakened immune system (chemotherapy patients or HIV sufferers)

Where is listeria found?

Listeria is most often found in pre-cooked, chilled, and ready to eat food, but can be found in a wide range of products. Kellogg’s was recently forced to recall 10,000 cases of Eggo waffles due to suspected listeria contamination. The Food Standards Agency identifies several foods as potentially at risk from listeria contamination, including:

– Smoked fish, cooked shellfish and fish pate

– Cooked meats and poultry, meat pate and cured meats

– Soft, blue-veined cheeses and mold-ripened cheeses

– Pre-packed sandwiches, prepared salads and cut fruits

– Frozen foods and ice cream (when defrosted)

What are the risks?

Symptoms of listeriosis are similar to those of flu and gastroenteritis, and sufferers may experience fevers, chills, muscle aches, diarrhoea and vomiting.  Most often, symptoms will abate after a few days without treatment.

However, patients with weakened immunes systems are at risk of spreading the infection to other areas of the body, causing meningitis, septicemia or infection of the central nervous system (invasive listeriosis). Such cases are extremely dangerous and can be fatal, so it’s essential to monitor symptoms carefully. Signs of acute listeriosis can include severe headaches and stiffness, seizures, uncontrollable shaking or lack of coordination, and changes to mental state (confusion, hysteria etc.).


How can you keep customers safe?

You can significantly reduce the risk of contamination by following FSA guidelines on food preparation. You should:

  1. Make sure your food storage units are maintaining a correct temperature (5 degrees Celsius or below)
  1. Always store raw foods and ready-to-eat foods separately
  1. Wash fruit and vegetables thoroughly before serving
  1. Follow use-by-date guidelines carefully
  1. Use opened food within two days (unless stated otherwise)
  1. Make sure cooked foods are piping hot before serving
  1. Eat chilled foods within four hours of taking them out of storage.

We highly recommend checking out guidelines by the FSA which you can find here. Stay safe and always keep a Hawk-eye on your food!