Ensure that all foods are cooked thoroughly to kill bacteria. Picture: Pixabay
Practicing proper hygiene and observing food safety protocols are essential to help prevent the spread of the deadly listeriosis outbreak which has already claimed the lives of 180 South Africans.

On Sunday, Minister of Health Aaron Motsoaledi announced that the recent outbreak was traced to a facility in Polokwane that produces processed meat products. A number of major retailers have withdrawn housebrand cold meats from their shelves after Enterprise Foods and Tiger Brands were implicated in spreading the bacterium.

Emergency medical care provider ER24 has compiled a practical list of information to help the public safeguard themselves against infection.

The people most at risk from contracting listeriosis are:
Pregnant women
Neonates (first 28 days of life)
Very young infants
Elderly persons > 65 years of age
And anyone with a weakened immune system (due to HIV infection, cancer, diabetes, kidney disease, liver disease, etc.)

If you fall into the high risk groups above you should:
Avoid consuming dairy products made of unpasteurised milk; deli meats and ready-to-eat meat products such as sausages, hams, patés and meat spreads, as well as cold-smoked seafood (such as smoked salmon);
Read and carefully follow the shelf life period and storage temperatures indicated on the product label.

Five food safety tips to prevent the spreading of listeriosis:

1. Wash your hands
Wash your hands before handling food and during food preparation
Wash your hands after going to the toilet
Wash and sanitise all surfaces and equipment used for food preparation
Protect kitchen areas and food from insects, pests and animals

2. Separate raw and cooked food
Separate raw meat, poultry and seafood from other foods
Use separate equipment and utensils such as knives and cutting boards for handling raw foods
Store food in containers to avoid contact between raw and prepared foods

3. Cook food thoroughly
Cook food thoroughly, especially meat, poultry, eggs and seafood.
Bring foods like soups and stews to boil. For meat and poultry, make sure that juices are clear

4. Keep food at safe temperatures
Do not leave cooked food at room temperature for more than 2 hours
Refrigerate promptly all cooked and perishable food
Keep cooked food hot prior to serving
Do not store food too long, even in the refrigerator
Do not thaw frozen food at room temperature

5. Use safe water and raw materials
Use safe water or treat it to make it safe
Select fresh and wholesome foods
Choose foods processed for safety, such as pasteurised milk
Wash fruits and vegetables, especially if eaten raw
Do not use food beyond its expiry date 

Symptoms are usually mild and may include fever, myalgia (pain in a muscle or group of muscles), malaise and sometimes nausea or diarrhoea. In at-risk patients, spread of infection to the nervous system can cause meningitis leading to headaches, confusion, stiff neck, loss of balance or convulsions. Bacteraemia may also occur.

If you experience any of the symptoms contact your doctor or visit your nearest clinic or emergency centre immediately.