What foods are likely to be contaminated by listeria?

By Susan Brewer, Ph.D., University of Illinois,
Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition

Listeria is very widely distributed in the environment and is generally water-borne, so it often originates from unclean water sources, drains, etc.  Listeria is most likely to become a problem in cured meat products such as hot dogs and bologna for these reasons:  1) listeria can grow slowly in refrigeration; 2) unlike most other bacteria, it tolerates the sodium nitrite that is used to “cure” the meat;  and 3) it is “microaerophilic,” that is, it likes a very small amount of oxygen in its environment, so it thrives in the vacuum-packaging of many  cured meat products.
FDA, 2008. Bad Bug Book. “Foodborne Pathogenic Microorganisms and Natural Toxins Handbook.” Clostridium botulinum.
Kendall, P. 2008.  “Bacterial food-borne illness.”  Cooperative Extension Service. Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO.  Fact sheet No. 9.300.



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