Health Canada recalled kale salad for listeria contamination yesterday, the second major food recall in recent weeks. The Eat Smart brand of pre-packaged sweet kale salads was recalled across the country due to a contamination risk of the bacteria. After what seems like a lot of food recalls so far this year, this latest recall begs the question - what is listeria and why do Canadian foods keep getting contaminated with it? 

Listeria Monocytogenes, which is the full name for listeria, is a bacteria that can cause diseases in animals and humans. The bacteria is often found in soil and water but from there it can spread to a lot of animals and food products. From there, it can be spread to people through eating contaminated food. 

What happens next is dependent on the person and their immune systems. The listeria bacteria is absorbed by the body in the intestines and from there can really wreak havoc on people causing a disease called listeriosis. Some people may not be infected at all while others will get a pretty average case of food poisoning with symptoms like fever, stiff neck, confusion, weakness, vomiting, and diarrhea. 

In more extreme cases though it can actually be deadly. People with compromised immune systems are at risk for listeria getting into their nervous systems and from there it can lead to diseases like meningitis or other brain infections. 

Other people more at risk for listeriosis are pregnant women since the bacteria can actually infect the fetus. When this happens it can cause stillbirths, early termination of the pregnancy, or blood infections in the baby. This is why pregnant women are often told to avoid soft cheeses, deli meats, and other common foods that could have listeria. 

Which leads us to our next question. How does this bacteria get into Canadian food so much? Listeria is found in soil and water, which explains how it ends up on vegetables such as the kale salads that were recently recalled in Canada. That's not the only way foods get contaminated, though. 

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Sometimes perfectly clean, uncontaminated food can then become infected with listeria in processing plants, where it tends to live on multiple surfaces. Because it grows rampantly in these plants, the Canadian government has issued new guidelines about ready-made foods, as the pre-packaged salad kits that were recalled. 

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Essentially the policy and guidelines from Health Canada lay out exactly how processing plants should conduct regular risk inspections, what they can do to eliminate listeria if it is found in their foods. There's still a huge roadblock to eliminating listeria in Canada and that's the weather. 

Listeria is one of the bacterias that has adapted to not only survive but to thrive in cold temperatures. This means both in nature in Canada, where it's as you know very cold, and in refrigerated processing plants. Since cold doesn't kill Listeria the only way to get rid of it is either pasteurizing food like dairy products or through cooking. 

If you're eager to avoid listeria and food poisoning, as most people probably are, there are a lot of foods you'll want to avoid. Marler Clark, a food safety law firm in the US recommends that people who are at risk for listeriosis shouldn't eat deli meat, hot dogs unless heated until steaming, soft cheeses, or smoked seafood. 

The latest recall issued by Health Canada warns consumers not to eat the pre-packaged sweet kale salads by Eat Smart. If you have this product in your home you are advised to either throw it out or return it to the store where it was bought. If you have already eaten potentially contaminated food or think you have listeriosis Health Canada is urging people to contact your doctor immediately. 

Sources: Food Poison Journal, Health Canada, Food Safety

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