Safety Nutrition Older adults

Should you heat your lunch meat?

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Photo: kcline/iStockphoto

Have you ever taken a hot dog out of the package and eaten it without first cooking it? If so, you put yourself at risk for listeriosis, a serious infection usually caused by eating food contaminated with the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes.

“An estimated 1,600 people get listeriosis each year, and about 260 die,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says. “The infection is most likely to sicken pregnant women and their newborns, adults aged 65 or older, and people with weakened immune systems.”

Hots dogs, lunch meats and cold cuts are some of the foods in which the bacterium can hide. If you’re among the at-risk group for listeriosis, don’t eat hot dogs, lunch meats, cold cuts, other deli meats (such as bologna), or fermented or dry sausages until you’ve heated them to an internal temperature of 165° F – or until steaming hot – just before serving. And follow these other recommendations from the CDC:

  • Don’t let juice from lunch meat and hot dog packages spread to other foods, utensils and food preparation surfaces.
  • Wash your hands after handling hot dogs, lunch meats and deli meats.
  • Make sure to safely store these foods in your fridge. After opening a package of hot dogs, keep it in the fridge for no longer than a week. Unopened packages should be kept for only two weeks. If you purchase lunch or deli meat, keep store-factory sealed, unopened packages in your fridge for no longer than two weeks. Discard opened packages and meat sliced at the deli counter after three to five days in the fridge.

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