The Australia New Zealand Food Authority has taken the step of issuing advice to pregnant women about the risk of contracting the food poisoning bacteria listeria, following the deaths of two unborn babies in Western Australia from the listeria infection.
The Chief Scientist for the Australia New Zealand Food Authority, Dr Marion Healy, said that pregnant women need to know about the dangers of the food-borne bacteria Listeria monocytogenes and the steps they can take to prevent infection of their unborn or newly born baby.
"While listeria infections in Australia are rare, it is important that pregnant women avoid these foods because of the significant risk they pose to the unborn baby. The listeria bacteria can be difficult to diagnose during pregnancy, so the best advice for women is to take preventative action and think food safety at all times," said Dr Healy.
She added that listeria rarely causes illness in healthy people, but it can cause serious illness in the elderly or people with poor immune systems, and it can cause women to have miscarriages or stillbirths. A newborn baby is likely to become very ill if infected by listeria.
"Listeria isn't a new bacteria but it's only over the last ten years that it's been widely recognised that listeria is transmitted through contaminated food," said Healy.
ANZFA noted that there were 60 reported listeria infections in Australia during 2000. Fifteen of these infections were in pregnant women and the remaining 45 infections were in people with suppressed immune systems or undergoing immuno-suppressive therapy.
While the bacteria is destroyed by cooking, it will grow in some food that is refrigerated.
The safety authority advised that pregnant women try as much as possible to eat food that is freshly prepared or has just been cooked, both at home and eating out. They should also avoid salad bars and certain chilled ready-to-eat foods, including soft cheeses such as brie, camembert and ricotta, paté, raw or smoked seafood such as oysters, sashimi, smoked salmon, sushi and ready-cooked cold meats, including chicken, from a deli, supermarket or sandwich bar.