Prolonged Psychological Fear Based on Unfounded/Distorted Claims:

Listeria in Frozen Food and TV Dinners


Listeria monocyogenes is a bacteria commonly found in soil, water, plants, animals, the human gut and even in cheese. Most strains are not pathogenic. But a few strains of this bacteria can produce listeriosis in humans. Listeriosis is a rare but potentially fatal disease for those at risk. Persons over 60 years old and newborns have the highest incidence. The Listeria bacteria rarely causes illness in healthy people, but pregnant women are at risk for listeriosis, because of risk to the fetus. Listeria monocytogenes bacteria can grow—very slowly—at refrigerator temperatures and the bacteria can survive at temperatures below freezing.

In 1988, activists in Great Britain claimed that a quarter of the frozen dinners bought in leading supermarkets were infected with the bacteria Listeria monocytogenes. These claims threw the nation in a panic. In hundreds of grocery stores, the shelves were emptied and food tossed away. This scare might have some validity if activist had taken the time to analyze the exact strains involved. But alas, they didn't! While many Listeria monocytogenes strains are naturally virulent and capable of producing severe diseases, others are somehow avirulent and unable to establish within mammalian hosts. For example, out of the 12 serotypes, over 98% of the human listeriosis cases are caused by just three serotypes (i.e., 1/2a, 1/2b and 4b). The end result was another major scare based on junk science.