Food Bourne Illness – Not a Trivial Matter!

August 2, 2016 in General, Health, Uncategorized by Joyce Bunderson

This past spring I received an email and a letter in the mail from Costco letting me know that I had purchased CRF Frozen Vegetables from them and that they were being recalled. I was a little tempted to keep them, because they were frozen green beans and I had already used some and had not become sick. But then my better reasoning helped me to decide “better safe than sorry.” I know that I cook frozen green beans longer than most frozen vegetables and that would likely make any food borne illness improbable. But…..

As it turns out, there were two other major Listeria outbreaks this spring/summer. One was with Whole Foods and the other General Mills. Fortunately the Listeria bacterium is not being taken lightly; and that’s really good. Listeria is a virulent killer – the third-leading cause of death from food-borne illnesses.

The disturbing story of John McKissick illustrates why you want to be careful with this horrible bug. Mr. McKissick was an active, healthy 69-year-old executive consultant and management trainer; who had every intention to continue working until he was 70 or 75. But Listeria ended any thought of that. Unfortunately, McKissick ate some cross-contaminated French cheese from Whole Foods (from a knife that had cut tainted Italian cheese).

About a week after eating the cheese, he got chills, fever, high temperature, vomiting and headaches. He and his wife thought it was an odd strain of the flu; but regrettably it only got worse. It turned out that this was an invasive listeriosis, so invasive that the infection had spread to his nervous system and brain. He started passing out, and ended up in the intensive care unit. Because this is not so common (thank goodness for all but its victims) the doctors did not recognize what it was immediately. His temperature skyrocketed; his blood pressure was out of control; his heart rate was awful; and his breathing was depressed. He ended up having seizures and a blood clot in his lung and possibly even a heart attack. His life was being maintained on a ventilator. His wife was told to summon their two sons and other close relative to say their goodbyes. Half of patients with severe Listeriosis die.

Finally, after about a week, a lumbar puncture test revealed the presence of Listeria. He had Listeria meningitis and that can cause deafness, epilepsy and brain damage, if not treated quickly. After about a month, he went to rehab for brain injuries, and had six weeks of physical therapy. He had to learn to speak, walk, and feed himself again. Eventually, he returned home – in a wheelchair. He’s on 12 drugs a day and will be on anti-seizure meds for the rest of his life. He has fatigue, balance problems, and tremors in his hands inhibiting writing. He can no longer hike like he so enjoyed.

My dissertation, which I worked on in the mid-1990s was about food safety and how it had evolved. I chose the subject because life-threatening food safety issues had come into play that had never existed before. Much progress has been made since those years; but food safety is still an issue that promises to stay relevant – especially with new virulent forms of bacteria that are becoming resistant to antibiotics.

The most important message that I can share regarding food safety is that prevention is the critical tool in management. Don’t risk your life with improperly handled food – it’s not worth your health or your life. If you’re unsure about how to manage certain types of food, spend some time in the Food and Drug Administration’s website. If you want to know specifically how to avoid Listeria, it’s spelled out very clearly on their website. Don’t play Russian Roulette with this bad bug or any of the others, for that matter!