Treatment & Prevention Options For Listeria

October 9, 2023

Listeria is a bacteria that can cause a rare infection called listeriosis, which is spread through eating food contaminated by the bacteria. While it can develop in a variety of foods, listeriosis is most commonly connected to dairy products and unpasteurized milk. Soft cheeses are known carriers, as are pre-packaged, ready-to-eat foods like deli meats and sandwiches. Most individuals affected by listeriosis will not experience severe symptoms. However, aches and pains, chills, nausea or vomiting, diarrhea, and fever have been reported. Although a listeria infection typically goes away on its own, it can cause more severe problems in individuals with a weak immune system. The following are easy ways to prevent or treat listeria, for those who have become infected.


Antibiotics are used to treat bacterial infections, and though listeria infections typically resolve themselves, sometimes medication may be necessary to aid the process. This is particularly true for pregnant women, babies, the elderly, and those with a high fever. If your doctor has diagnosed you, they may prescribe medication to kill the bacteria. Generally speaking, ampicillin is the preferred antibiotic. It can be taken alone or in combination with gentamicin. However, patients allergic to penicillin will require alternative treatments called 'second-line agents.' These include trimethoprim, erythromycin, and vancomycin, to name a few.

Observational Approach For Mild Cases

An observational approach for mild cases of listeria is the most common method of treatment. For most patients, the symptoms present similarly to the flu, disappearing after a few days, so keeping an eye on symptoms and acting accordingly is the best method of self-care. Rehydrating after losing fluids through diarrhea, resting, and avoiding dairy are simple ways to make yourself feel better.

If symptoms persist, though, or if you are particularly susceptible to the infection progressing, simply monitoring your symptoms is not an effective option. Mild cases in normally healthy adults are not a huge cause for concern, but a pregnant woman can pass listeriosis to her unborn child, which can be very dangerous for the baby. Those with weak immune systems should also visit a doctor immediately when symptoms present themselves.

Careful Food Preparation

Careful food preparation is one of the best ways to prevent the development of listeria. As the bacteria are foodborne, practicing proper preparation techniques is essential for staying healthy. When preparing and handling food, always take care to wash your hands, especially when handling raw food. All fresh vegetables and fruits should be thoroughly washed well before consumption. Make sure to cook all foods of animal origin (eggs, meat, and dairy) thoroughly. After cutting raw meat, do not use the same cutting board or knife on another product until after washing them in warm, soapy water. All frozen foods should be properly defrosted in the fridge or microwave as well. When in doubt, cook your food a bit longer, as the process can kill bacteria.

Washing Hands

Washing your hands regularly is a healthy habit to have, regardless of whether or not you are handling food. However, it's particularly important if you are dealing with food you or someone else will consume. Running your hands under water for a second is not sufficient. Using soap and scrubbing all areas of your hands for at least thirty seconds is much more effective at killing bacteria. Be sure to get in every crevice, and don't forget to get underneath the nails, as those areas are havens for bacteria to hide in and multiply. After washing your hands, use an air-dryer. If you don't have access to one of these, make sure to use a clean towel, so you don't reverse the effects from washing your hands. Bacteria can remain on dirty towels, so always have a clean one around.

Cleaning Cooking Area

Cleaning the cooking area is also an essential step in maintaining a clean and hygienic area. Though we sometimes forget to clean as we go, wiping up spills and mess greatly reduces the risk of cross-contamination. Cutting boards and knives should be cleaned immediately after coming into contact with raw meat and dairy products. Measuring cups should also be rinsed with soapy water in between measuring different ingredients. Using antibacterial spray on all surfaces and taking care to scrub even the toughest corners will also prevent the gradual build-up of harmful bacteria. Never use dirty utensils, plates, or bowls, and be sure to check all serving utensils before using them to dish out food.

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