A recent Listeria recall for blended smoothie kits has some consumers wondering just how hardy this bacteria is. Can Listeria really survive in the freezer?  The answer is yes. And, as Listeria lawyer Eric Hageman explains, the results can be devastating.

Attorney Eric Hageman
Listeria Attorney Eric Hageman

“A couple of years ago, there was a Listeria outbreak linked to ice cream. One of our clients got Listeria meningitis from the ice cream he ate and suffered permanent disability,” Hageman said.

While most people are aware that foods such as smoked salmon and deli meat can pose a Listeria risk, many are surprised to learn that frozen foods can, too. The reason is that Listeria bacteria are extremely hardy. While refrigeration slows the growth of most foodborne bacteria, Listeria actually thrives in the cooler temperatures and can survive freezing, drying and immersion in high concentrations of salt, alcohol, acid and bile. The only way to kill it is to cook it to 165˚F. 

This means ice cream and other treats that are meant to be eaten frozen pose a Listeria risk. And, as a 2016 Listeria outbreak linked to frozen vegetables showed, sometimes just handling or not thoroughly heating frozen foods can be dangerous. That four-state outbreak, which was linked to frozen vegetables produced by CRF Frozen Foods and sold under dozens of brand names, sickened nine people, three of whom died.

How Can Consumers Protect Themselves?

Pregnant women, people over 65 and people with compromised immune systems are at elevated risk of contracting Listeria infections. Among pregnant women, Listeria can cause miscarriage, stillbirth and premature delivery of an infected newborn. These high-risk groups should avoid eating foods that are most often associated with Listeria. They include:

  • Queso fresco and other soft cheeses
  • Raw sprouts
  • Cold cuts
  • Hot dogs
  • Pâtés
  • Lunch meats
  • Unpasteurized dairy products
  • Smoked salmon

Recalls for products that are or may be contaminated with Listeria or other bacteria are infrequent, but it’s important for all consumers to stay informed. If a product you have purchased is recalled for Listeria, don’t eat it and be sure to carefully clean all areas of your kitchen that had contact with the product  -including the interior of your refrigerator or freezer.

Wash your hands after handling frozen foods and use a food thermometer to make sure they have reached a safe internal temperature before eating them.


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