Easter entertaining – your friends and family could be at risk of Listeria (29 March 2018)


As Easter is a perfect time to entertain, the Food Safety Information Council is warning about the risk of food poisoning from Listeria when entertaining several generations of family and friends.

Council Chair, Rachelle Williams, said that the recent six tragic deaths and a miscarriage from Listeria infections linked to rock melons is a timely reminder that food poisoning can be extremely dangerous and even fatal.

‘While Listeria infection is rare, it can be a very serious disease in pregnant women, people who have diabetes, cancer or suppressed immune systems, and the elderly over 70, all of whom will need to avoid certain foods,’ Ms Williams said.

‘There were 71 serious cases of Listeria infection in Australia during the whole of 2017 and there have been 40 cases recorded already this year. Listeria is widely found in the environment so most raw foods are likely to be contaminated. Listeria is easily killed by heat, although cooked foods can easily become re-contaminated from the kitchen environment and utensils through poor food handling after cooking.

‘Check if any of your visiting family or guests has a weakened immune system, is over 70 or is pregnant. The best way to avoid Listeria infection is to eat freshly cooked or freshly prepared food and to be very careful with hygiene ensuring you wash hands and keep utensils and the kitchen environment clean. Try to avoid serving foods which have a higher risk of Listeria contamination such as:

  • cold meats from delicatessen counters and sandwich bars, and packaged, sliced ready-to-eat meats
  • cold cooked ready- to-eat chicken (whole, portions, or diced)
  • pre-prepared or pre-packaged fruit or vegetable salads, including those from buffets and salad bars
  • chilled seafood such as raw oysters, sashimi and sushi, smoked ready-to-eat seafood such as smoked salmon and cooked ready-to-eat prawns
  • soft, semi-soft and surface-ripened cheeses such as brie, camembert, ricotta, blue and feta
  • refrigerated paté or meat spreads
  • soft serve ice cream
  • unpasteurised dairy products
  • sprouted seeds/bean sprouts.

‘Listeria is one of the few pathogens that can grow in the refrigerator, so ready to eat food should never be stored in the fridge too long. Although Listeria can grow in the fridge, it will do so only very slowly so make sure your refrigerator is keeping your food at or less than 5°C. Never eat packaged, ready to eat food like those listed above after their ‘use by’ or ‘best before’ date.

‘The symptoms for Listeria infection are usually described as ‘flu-like’, although vomiting and diarrhoea can occur. Miscarriage can result if a pregnant woman is infected, even if she doesn’t show the symptoms. The time from infection to symptoms can be anywhere between 8 to 90 days. Anyone in the groups vulnerable to Listeria who is worried about possible infection should speak with their GP or the Health Direct Hotline 1800 022 222,’ Ms Williams concluded.

Find out more about Listeria

Media contact:

Lydia Buchtmann, Food Safety Information Council, 0407 626 688 or info@foodsafety.asn.au