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Listeria in Deli Meat and Cheese from Graze Boxes: Should You Worry?

Medically reviewed by Elfred Landas, MD · General Practitioner · Maxicare Primary Care Center

Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N. · Updated Jun 14, 2021

    Listeria in Deli Meat and Cheese from Graze Boxes: Should You Worry?

    Similar to salmonellosis, listeria infection is a foodborne disease. While it can affect anyone, it’s most dangerous to people with weak immunity, pregnant women, and seniors. Here’s what you need to know about listeria infection in deli meat and cheese.

    How Does Listeria Get into Our Deli Meat and Cheese?

    Listeria bacteria found in soil and water can infect both plants and animals. The thing is, animals with infection can appear healthy, so livestock handlers might continue to get meat and milk from them and sell them to the market. If someone eats raw meat or drinks unpasteurized milk, the risk of contracting listeria infection increases.

    If that’s the case, then why do some people get listeria from deli meat and cheese? These products are cooked, right?

    Yes, deli meats, also called luncheon meats or cold cuts, are precooked or cured slices of meat. However, you can still get listeria from eating them. According to experts, the processes that occur after cooking, such as handling, slicing, and storage, can get the bacteria into the meat.

    Listeria in Deli Meat and Cheese

    As for cheeses, please remember that some kinds are made with unpasteurized milk. Additionally, soft cheeses such as camembert and brie are surface-ripened, which means they ripe from the surface down to the interior with the help of molds, bacteria, or yeast.

    I recently ate deli meats and soft cheeses, what should I do?

    Have you recently eaten luncheon meat and soft cheese? Perhaps from grazing gift boxes that contain an assortment of dried fruits, deli meats, soft and hard cheeses, nuts, and crackers? If so, you don’t need to do anything unless you develop the signs and symptoms of listeria or another foodborne disease.

    You see, deli meats and soft cheeses don’t always cause listeria infection. But if you develop the following symptoms, be sure to contact your doctor:

    • High temperature of 38 C or above
    • Chills
    • Feeling sick
    • Aches and pains throughout the body
    • Diarrhea

    Please note that you can develop the symptoms a few days to more than a month after consuming contaminated foods. In case the infection spreads to the nervous system, a person may also experience:

    • Stiff neck
    • Headache
    • Convulsion
    • Loss of balance
    • Confusion

    Experts say that healthy people typically do not get sick with listeria, but it can be fatal to babies in the womb or people with compromised immunity.

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    How to Treat Listeria Infection

    In case you got listeria from deli meat and cheese, your treatment depends on the severity of the symptoms. Mild cases may not need treatment at all since the infection might resolve on its own. For more serious cases, the doctor may prescribe you antibiotics.

    Pregnant women infected with listeria require immediate treatment as antibiotic therapy may prevent the infection from affecting the baby.

    Listeria Infection Prevention Tips

    To prevent getting listeria from deli meat and cheese, remember the following tips:

    • Cook meats thoroughly, including eggs, beef, pork, chicken, and fish.
    • Wash your hands before cooking or preparing foods. Likewise, wash your hands after handling animals or raw meat.
    • Keep things clean. The US FDA recommends cleaning the refrigerator shelves, cutting boards, utensils, and countertops whenever they get in contact with raw meat. They also recommend sanitizing these surfaces with a mixture of 1 tablespoon chlorine and 1 gallon of hot water before drying with a clean cloth.
    • Make sure that your cheeses are made with pasteurized milk.
    • Don’t drink unpasteurized milk.
    • Reheat deli meats until they are steaming hot.
    • Keep raw meat away from other food, clean containers, and unused utensils.

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    Key Takeaways

    Listeria infection is a foodborne disease you can get from deli meat and cheese like those found in grazing gift boxes. Experts say that healthy people generally do not get sick with listeria. Still, it could be fatal to people with weak immunity and babies in the womb, so pregnant women should be careful. People with infection may not need antibiotics if they only have a mild case. The best way to prevent listeria infection is to cook foods thoroughly, drink only pasteurized milk, and keep surfaces where you cook and handle food clean.

    Learn more about Foodborne Diseases here


    Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

    Medically reviewed by

    Elfred Landas, MD

    General Practitioner · Maxicare Primary Care Center

    Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N. · Updated Jun 14, 2021

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