- Listeria was just found on a batch of California avocados.
- Henry Avocado Corp. is voluntarily recalling avocados shipped to six states “out of an abundance of caution.”
- For otherwise healthy people, the bacteria isn’t a huge concern. But pregnant women and others with vulnerable immune systems should be careful.
Avocado toast lovers, beware: Listeria was just found on a batch of California avocados.
California-based Henry Avocado Corp. is voluntarily recalling avocados in six states (Arizona, California, Florida, New Hampshire, North Carolina, and Wisconsin) “out of an abundance of caution” after a batch of the green fruits tested positive for listeria contamination, the US Food and Drug Administration announced Saturday.
Conventional Henry avocados in the store have a sticker on them that says “bravocado” (see below), while the organic versions are a bit trickier to identify because you have to take a look at the bar code.
But don’t freak out yet. Just because avocados might have some listeria bacteria on the skin doesn’t mean you’ll get sick.
Listeria is a common bacteria
Listeria monocytogenes is a common kind of pathogenic bacteria that can grow in soil and water (and live in some animals). The microorganisms can cause a listeriosis infection “that in most healthy people is unpleasant but not serious,” according to the FDA. Symptoms of a listeriosis infection often include diarrhea and fever, and typically show up one to four weeks after a person is exposed to bacteria, though people can start getting sick on the same day they eat contaminated food.
In 2018, the FDA reported that listeria is rampant on avocado fruit skin. About one in every five avocados sold in the US has some listeria on the peel but almost none have it in the pulp. This is good news because it means you’re unlikely to get sick from a contaminated avocado, especially if you wash your avocados in clean water before cutting them.
Pregnant women and others with weak immune systems are at risk
Listeriosis can be a serious problem for pregnant women, babies, the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems (such as people who have HIV or cancer and transplant patients).
Wash your avocados – and all other fresh fruits and vegetables – in clean running water before cutting, eating, and serving them. The US Department of Health and Human Services advises people to scrub the outside of avocados with a clean produce brush, and then dry them with a clean cloth or paper towel before cutting into them “to further reduce bacteria that may be present.”
If you or a loved one is vulnerable to listeria contamination, avoid raw milk products and rare meat. In addition to avocados, listeria outbreaks have been traced to melons, sprouts, raw milk and raw cheese, cold cuts, and smoked seafood.
Washing your hands with warm soapy water before preparing food and keeping cutting boards clean can also help. Remember that listeria grows and spreads in the fridge, so you can avoid cross-contaminating foods by keeping your refrigerator clean and listeria-free.
“If you unknowingly refrigerate listeria-contaminated food, the germs not only multiply at the cool temperature, they could contaminate your refrigerator and spread to other foods there, increasing the likelihood that you and your family will become sick,” as the FDA warns.
Though rarely an issue for otherwise healthy people who are not pregnant, listeriosis is still the third-most-common cause of death by food poisoning in the US.
The CDC reports that 1,600 people get listeriosis each year. It’s fatal for about one in five who get it, and some 260 people die from listeriosis infections every year, though it is treatable with antibiotics. Women who are pregnant should be especially careful. Listeriosis results in fetal death in about 20% of cases, and pregnant women are 13 times as likely as the general public to develop listeriosis, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.