We’ve blogged a lot about listeria and avoiding it is a good idea, in the neighborhood of "breathing is a good idea."  The CDC, in an article reported by Elizabeth Weise in USA Today Wednesday, is recommending a couple of things in connection with cold cuts, including hot dogs, for those over 50, and in particular those over 65, to avoid listeria:

  • Reheat them to 165 degrees Fahrenheit just before eating
  • Don’t keep them in the refrigerator longer than five days after opening

Which kind of takes the "cold" out of cold cuts, doesn’ t it? 

Ms. Weise’s article then goes on to explain what a change this would be in the behavior of people who are often dependent on lunch meats as a relatively inexpensive source of protein, and to question where the source of this advice is coming from.  The CDC, for its part, notes that listeria doesn’t go away when refrigerated and doesn’t give either visual or olfactory clues to its presence.  The industry response is that consumers should look for products containing antimicrobials like sodium lactate or potassium lactate. 

As the article implies, this advice is counterintuitive for many people.  Moreover, as one person quoted in the article points out, the placing of the label of "risky" on such an ordinary item takes away some of life’s enjoyment as well.  That is not to deny that the risk is real, but it is akin to a "Black Swan" event whose probability may be low but where the consequences of the event occurring are high and can change the way we think.  Pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems are at high risk, but constitute a more discrete part of the population that is generally more likely to consider itself in need of health information.  I’m 54 and don’t think of myself as at extra risk of this kind of food-borne illness. 

On the other hand, I haven’t eaten any cold cuts or hot dogs since I started getting a reaction to them while still in my 30s.