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AGRICULTURE REPORT — November 19, 2002: Listeria Outbreak - 2002-11-18

This is the VOA Special English Agriculture Report.

Last month, news media reported that people in the northeastern United States were getting sick from eating some processed meats. Health officials reported that a form of food poisoning called listeria was making people sick. They discovered that meats processed at a factory in the state of Pennsylvania contained that bacteria. At least forty cases of food poisoning have been reported. At least seven deaths have been blamed on listeria.

The meat-processing company ordered stores to remove more than twelve-million kilograms of processed meats. The products were cooked chicken and turkey meats. It was the largest food recall in American history.

The recall shows that people who prepare meats for sale must be very careful. It does not matter if the meat is prepared in a factory or on a farm. People need to observe simple rules for preparing meats.

In the case of the meat-processing company, listeria bacteria were first found on equipment that moves products. Then the bacteria were found in other parts of the factory.

The bacteria generally spread through the waste products of animals and from animal to animal. Often, animals used for meat are processed in conditions that permit listeria to infect them. Only a few infected animals are needed to spread listeria to processing equipment. Once dirty equipment carries the bacteria, it can spread to meat products throughout a factory. That appears to be what happened in Pennsylvania.

Listeria is most dangerous to pregnant women and their fetuses, children, and people who are already seriously sick. It can travel from the intestinal system to the blood and can infect the brain in some cases.

The United States Food and Drug administration and the Department of Agriculture have published studies on listeria. The reports say that more than one-thousand-five hundred people are infected by listeria every year in America. Studies say about four-hundred people die from it each year.

The best way to prevent listeria is to carefully clean equipment and surfaces where meat, eggs and milk products are prepared. People at risk should avoid uncooked meats or milk products that have not been heated to destroy bacteria. Cooking food completely destroys listeria.

This VOA Special English Agriculture Report was written by Mario Ritter.