Listeria: It’s everywhere now. How do you stay safe?

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BRENHAM, Texas — Blue Bell Ice Cream used to come with nothing but a smile. Now it practically has a surgeon general’s warning: “May cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people… healthy individuals may suffer only short-term symptoms such as high fever, severe headache, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea. Listeria infection can cause miscarriages and stillbirths among pregnant women.”

That warning is actually from a press release Blue Bell sent out Monday. For the record, no illnesses have been reported so far in this latest cookie dough ice cream recall. But if you’ve got some in your freezer, for Heaven’s sake, go get your money back!

All this got us wondering, just how easy is it to get sick from listeria?

First off, what is it? It’s a bacteria. An ugly thing that kills 260 people a year and makes another 1,600 sick, in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

It’s found in soil, water and some animals, but also in poop, sewage, decaying vegetation and raw milk.

The only way you can get sick from it is by eating something contaminated with it (unless, you’re pregnant with Listeriosis — then it can pass from mother to fetus.)

The incubation period varies. Symptoms can develop two days after ingesting it, and up to 70 days later.

Unfortunately, it’s pretty much everywhere. The USDA took samples of raw meat in seven different countries and 70% of it had some level of listeria. If food is contaminated during preparation, bacteria can grow during transportation and storage, giving listeria a chance to reproduce to dangerous levels. That’s why some foods don’t last in your fridge more than a week.

But don’t let this turn you into the “Bubble Boy.” Just be careful. Wash your counters, knives and cutting boards after dealing with raw meats, fruits and vegetables.

And if you’re pregnant or have a weak immune system, skip the soft, boojie cheeses, cold cuts and seafood. Make sure meat you eat is cooked to the proper temperature. And unfortunately, for right now, skip the Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough and Cookie Two Step flavors of Blue Bell Ice Cream.

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