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The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has issued a recall for Golden Mushroom brand Enoki mushroom due to possible listeria contamination.
The recall was triggered by CFIA test results, according to a safety alert issued Saturday. There has been no reported illnesses associated with the product so far.
"The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is conducting a food safety investigation, which may lead to the recall of other products," the agency said.
The recalled products are also being removed from the marketplace.
Why is listeria a concern? Here's what you need to know.
What is listeria?
Dr. Isaac Bogoch, a specialist in infectious diseases at the Toronto General Hospital, describes listeria as a type of bacteria that can infect people when they consume contaminated food.
"It's usually associated with specific types of food," said Bogoch. "It's just more common in some foods than others. But it's sadly not uncommon to hear about listeria outbreaks from time to time."
He said listeria can be found in:
Cold cuts, deli meats and hot dogs
Pasteurized or unpasteurized milk products
Occasionally, in fruits and vegetables
"The interesting thing about listeria is that, normally when you put something in the refrigerator, it usually would suppress bacterial growth, but listeria actually grows very well in refrigerated environments," Bogoch explained.
What are the symptoms?
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency says food contaminated with listeria may not look or smell spoiled, but can still make people sick.
According to public health, symptoms of listeria can start as early as three days after eating contaminated food.
A lot of people probably had listeria and did not even know it.Dr. Isaac Bogoch
The symptoms can include the following:
"Most people who get listeria are going to have diarrhea and gastrointestinal symptoms. It's going to go away on its own. They don't even require antibiotics… And a lot of people probably had listeria and did not even know it," said Bogoch.
Who is at risk?
Pregnant women, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems are particularly at risk for severe illness from listeria, according to Bogoch.
"Those individuals are at risk of what we call invasive listeriosis," said Bogoch. "And that means it can cause a bloodstream infection… it can be very serious."
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), invasive listeriosis is characterized by "severe symptoms and a high mortality rate (20–30 per cent)."
The symptoms include:
myalgia (muscle pain)
septicemia (blood poisoning)
meningitis (inflammation of brain and spinal cord tissues)
"The incubation period is usually one to two weeks but can vary between a few days and up to 90 days," WHO explained.
The infection in pregnant women may also lead to premature delivery, infection of the newborn or even stillbirth.
However, Bogoch said listeria is generally not difficult to treat and people who do end up hispitalized will be given antibiotic therapy.
"The key is prevention," he added, "to ensure that people are aware of what product is involved so they can avoid it… And if people do have risk factors for a severe infection and they have symptoms of infection, to ensure that there is rapid access to care and they start treatment."
How to prevent infection?
Bogoch said food contaminated with listeria is beyond an individual's control and it has to do with how the food was processed before it reached the consumer. But, there are still ways to prevent infection.
"People can cook their meat… The bacteria would not survive if you cooked a hot dog," said Bogoch.
Health Canada says “foods that are contaminated with the listeria bacteria will look, smell and taste normal.”
The bacteria would not survive if you cooked a hot dog.Dr. Isaac Bogoch
This is why people at high risk for severe illness should avoid eating deli meats unless they are dried and salted, or heated until steaming hot. Additionally, they should avoid pâté and meat spreads unless they are frozen, canned, or shelf-stable.
To lower the risk of infection, Bogoch also recommended people avoid unpasteurized dairy products, which Health Canada said includes soft and semi-soft cheese such as brie, camembert and blue-veined cheese.
"People can still get listeria through pasteurized products… but unpasteurized products carry a higher risk," Bogoch said.
Fruits and vegetables should also be washed thoroughly, the doctor concluded.