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Listeria and Produce: What Can We Trust?

By now I imagine that most of us have heard about the outbreak of Listeria connected with cantaloupe. The most recent numbers I could find indicate that so far 133 have contracted Listeria and 28 people have died. This is a scary thing in any physical condition, but I’m finding it especially scary while pregnant.

My doctor is pretty conservative when it comes to foods and medications to avoid during pregnancy, and I like that about her. So far, I’ve not eaten anything on the list of forbidden foods she gave me, even though I miss blue cheese more than anything in the world right now.

But this Listeria outbreak has me worried. And it’s not just cantaloupe. I keep seeing little news blurbs about grapes and spinach being recalled and it troubles me. Even if I follow all the rules and only eat foods that are supposed to be “safe” how can I be sure I won’t get sick?

Listeria is a particularly nasty illness while pregnant because some pregnant women don’t even have symptoms. But the virus can live in the placenta and can lead to miscarriage or stillbirth, or an infection in the infant at birth. Pretty much it can lead to the worst case scenarios we all try not to think about.

We all read about avoiding preservatives and eating organic food because it’s “better” for us, but it seems like right now, all those preservative laden foods are much less risky. I’ve been working hard to eat 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day, but I feel like I’m almost putting myself more at risk with my apples and pears than with my processed (and delicious) macaroni and cheese at lunch.

I know that for things like lunch meat, you can reduce the risk of Listeria by heating them thoroughly, but who heats lettuce? Or melon? How are we supposed to protect ourselves from this virus when it seems like there’s no way to know where it might be lurking.

Yes, I realize I sound like a Listeria conspiracy theorist, but I’m finding this outbreak really alarming. It’s one of the first times where I feel like following the rules isn’t enough. And as a chronic rule follower and control freak, I’m kind of panicking.

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