By Russ and Tiña De Maris
Few things will ruin an RV trip faster than a case of food poisoning. Grandma’s dire warnings about keeping the potato salad cold notwithstanding, getting sick with a bug called Listeria could not only make you sick, it could put you in the hospital – and if you’re vulnerable, maybe into the morgue. Happily, there are things you can do to keep your risks down.
Listeria is often linked to ready-to-eat foods like deli meats, hot dogs, smoked seafoods, and deli-prepared salads. Those most at risk for the really serious complications of Listeriosis (the illness caused by the bacteria) are older folks, those with compromised immune systems, and pregnant women. Sad to say, Listeriosis can even live on in your refrigerator, although with precautions its multiplication can be slowed down.
While you can’t get behind the counter at the deli and inspect to make sure all precautions against this nasty character are taken, you can still do some things to ward it off. First — and especially if you’re in a high-risk category — reheat hot dogs and lunch meats until they’re steaming hot. That heat will kill Listeria. Avoid unpasteurized milk and its byproducts like soft cheeses. What? Yes, pass on the feta, brie, camembert, blue-veined cheeses, “queso blanco,” “queso fresco” or Panela, unless the label clearly indicates the cheese was made with pasteurized milk.
Listeria has also been found in other food products, so washing fruits and veggies before eating is a good idea; cooking or peeling where possible is even better. Firm produce like a melon or cucumber could be scrubbed up with a brush.
Precooked foods are a big convenience to the RVer; but when you do buy them, eat ’em up as quickly as possible. If they are contaminated, the longer they stick around, the greater the chance for the bacteria to thrive and multiply. The more you eat, the better your chances for getting ill. Three days is the listed safety limit by the Food and Drug Administration for leftovers.
As we said, Listeria can survive a trip in your refrigerator, but cool temperatures will slow it down. So keep your RV reefer down to 40 degrees or colder, and zero is the goal for the freezer. Keep your foods – all of them – wrapped or closed up in leak-proof containers so the bug, if it gets in your refrigerator, won’t have the chance to creep into otherwise “clean” food. If anything spills in your RV chiller, particularly hot dog or lunch meat juices, or raw meat or poultry. clean the spills up right away. Using a toss-away paper towel is better than a reusable cloth to avoid spreading the germs. Even without spills, regular cleaning of your fridge with warm water and dishwashing liquid followed by a rinse is indicated.