Have you ever used a cartoon of milk that’s past its expiration date? Particularly in hard economic times, people want to avoid wasting food. This is particularly true of the elderly who may be on a fixed income. According to a report from the U.K. and published on the website foodproductiondaily.com, many elderly people are drinking milk and eating food several days after the expiration date has passed. Unfortunately, this greatly increases the risk of developing a case of Listeria infection which can be deadly in some cases. In the U.K, the number of cases of Listeria illness have doubled over the last decade as a result of eating food that’s past it’s prime.
What is Listeria and why is Listeria illness such a health threat? Listeria illness is caused by a bacteria known as Listeria monocytogenes. This bacteria is commonly found in the soil and can contaminate both vegetable and animal food products. It’s been isolated from unpasteurized milks and cheese as well as from uncooked meat. When this bacteria enters the body, it has the potential of causing serious food borne illness.
Although anyone who eats contaminated food can develop Listeria illness, it’s most common in those who have weakened immune systems or underlying medical problems, diabetics, the elderly, and women who are pregnant. When it does cause illness, the death rate can be as high as twenty percent. If a pregnant woman develops a case of Listeria infection, it can be transmitted to her unborn baby.
Obviously, precautions should be taken to reduce the risk of Listeria infection, particularly in those who are pregnant or have medical problems. The best way to do this is to practice safe food handling. This means abiding by the expiration date on foods, particularly meat and dairy products. Interpreting expiration dates on food packages and cartons can be confusing since some are listed as “best if used before” dates which only tell when the product should be used for maximum freshness and doesn’t necessarily indicate when the food is spoiled. Other products have “sell by” dates which tell the store how long an item should be kept on display. Eggs usually have a “sell by” date, but can usually still be used up to three weeks after the purchase date if refrigerated properly.
To avoid Listeria illness, it’s best to use uncooked meat products within two days of storage, although cured meats such as ham can usually be kept for up to a week. Cooked meat should be used within three to four days. Bacon and hot dogs, if stored properly, can be kept for up to two weeks. It’s best to throw out milk when it reaches its expiration date and to avoid drinking raw milk. Foods should be stored at temperatures of 40 degrees Farenheit or below to prevent bacterial growth.
Listeria illness can be serious in people who are older, pregnant, or have weak immune systems. Don’t take chances by eating older food and drinking expired milk. It’s not worth the health risk.