Understanding the Foodborne Illness that Claims Lives

Listeriosis is a serious foodborne illness caused by the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes.


Listeriosis is a rare yet serious foodborne illness caused by the bacteria Listeria monocytogenes. With a mortality rate of 20–30%, it is crucial to understand the causes, symptoms, and preventative measures of this life-threatening illness. This article will explore the causes, effects, and preventative measures of Listeriosis and highlight past outbreaks, the measures taken in the US to control the spread of the disease, and new techniques that have been found effective in controlling Listeria contamination.

Deadly Outbreaks of Listeriosis:

Foods Prone to Listeria Contamination:

Listeria bacteria are widely present in the environment and can survive temperatures as low as 24°F. As a result, food groups prone to Listeria contamination include:

Preventing Listeria Contamination:

Food safety measures need to be strictly followed in food processing facilities to avoid Listeria contamination. The following food groups are to be avoided by susceptible groups such as pregnant women, infants, the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems. Foods such as ice cream, salads, and cheeses cannot be disinfected at home, and strict sanitary guidelines need to be followed in food processing facilities.

Listeria Surveillance in the United States:

In the United States, any listeriosis infection must be reported to the local, state, territorial, or federal public health authorities. In 2004, the United States established a national surveillance system, the Listeria Initiative, to monitor and collect data on listeria outbreaks across the country. The Listeria Initiative also involves molecular subtyping data from clinical, food, and environmental isolates or samples of Listeria to identify clusters of possibly related cases.

Preventative Measures in Food Processing Facilities:

To prevent Listeria contamination, food processing facilities must maintain good manufacturing practices and keep the facility sanitized and clean. Regular disinfection of food handling equipment is a widely used industry practice, but in the case of Listeria, common surface disinfection practices are not enough. The following are potential sources for Listeria contamination and need to be monitored regularly:

Effective Techniques in Controlling Listeria:

UV disinfection has shown potential in controlling Listeria. Studies have shown that conveyor belts exposed to UV rays showed a significant decrease in the Listeria population. In-line UV irradiation of the brine chiller system used for the processing of ready-to-eat meat products also significantly reduced Listeria populations. Furthermore, direct UV irradiation of meat products has been proven to be an effective way to kill Listeria bacteria without affecting product quality. This makes UV light treatment a crucial food safety measure for the ready-to-eat food industry.

UV disinfection works by exposing the bacteria to UV light. The light penetrates the cells of the bacteria, causing damage to its genetic material. This makes it difficult for the bacteria to multiply and can lead to its death.

UV disinfection has several benefits over traditional disinfection methods. Firstly, it is a chemical-free process, making it an environmentally-friendly option. Secondly, it is highly effective in killing Listeria, even in hard-to-clean areas like conveyor belts, weighing equipment, and compressed air filters. Thirdly, it has been proven to not affect the quality of food products, making it an ideal option for the food industry.

Benefits of UV Disinfection in the Food Industry:

It is important to note that UV disinfection is not a substitute for good manufacturing practices. It should be used in conjunction with other food safety measures, such as regular cleaning and disinfection of food handling equipment.



Listeriosis, caused by the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes, is a serious foodborne illness with a high mortality rate. Food groups especially prone to Listeria contamination include raw meat, seafood, and vegetables, ready-to-eat processed meat, refrigerated pates, ready-to-eat smoked seafood, prepared or stored salads, melons, soft cheeses made with unpasteurized milk, and unpasteurized milk and milk products.

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Date 01/02/2023


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