Pregnant women were today reminded that they shouldn’t eat ready-to-eat cold-smoked or cured salmon because of the listeria risk.
Food safety chiefs also issued the same warning to millions of Brits with diabetes, cancer and liver disease.
Smoked salmon and trout are more likely to harbour the bug, which can be life-threating to at-risk people, as the foods are not fully-cooked during production.
The Food Standards Agency recommended that they are cooked until piping hot, in order to kill off any listeria potentially lurking inside.
FSA bosses also urged the elderly to be ‘aware of the risks’.
Expectant mothers, along with cancer, diabetes and liver disease patients, should shun the foods over fears they will become severely unwell if the products are contaminated with listeria
It means products such as smoked salmon, smoked trout and sushi are off the menu — unless cooked until piping hot, the Food Standards Agency said
Listeriosis, the infection caused by listeria, can trigger severe illness, hospitalisation and, in severe cases, death among those most at risk.
Pregnant women are at risk of suffering a miscarriage and severe sepsis, while their newborn baby can contract meningitis.
However, most people only suffer short-lasting symptoms, such as a fever, aches and pains, chills, being sick and diarrhoea.
NHS officials already tell pregnant women to avoid cold-smoked salmon and cured fish products, along with uncooked soft cheeses, unpasteurised dairy products and any undercooked food.
The reminder follows a joint risk assessment by the FSA and their equivalent body in Scotland.
What is listeriosis?
Most people that catch listeriosis, caused by bacteria called listeria, will only experience mild symptoms, such as vomiting and diarrhoea.
Other symptoms of the infection can include a high temperature of 38C or above, aches and pains, and chills, according to the NHS.
However, more serious complications can develop in those with weakened immune systems, babies, the elderly and pregnant women.
Many foods can harbour listeria, but it is usually found in unpasteurised milk, soft cheeses and ready-to-eat foods, such as prepacked sandwiches.
Listeria is widespread in the environment and can be found in raw food and soil, and in the droppings of many mammals, birds, and fish.
Around 120 cases of listeriosis are confirmed every year in England, according to figures. It strikes around 1,600 annually in the US.
HOW CAN YOU AVOID LISTERIOSIS?
- Wash your hands regularly with soap and water
- Wash fruit and vegetables before eating them
- Store ready-to-eat foods as recommended by the manufacturer
- Make sure all hot food is steaming hot all the way through
It was commissioned in response to an ongoing outbreak, which began in 2020 and is linked to ready-to-eat fish.
There have been 19 confirmed cases of listeriosis linked to the fish products — the most recent of which was in June — and four deaths in the UK since 2020.
The watchdogs found the risk of pregnant and vulnerable Brits contracting listeriosis from the products is low overall.
However, if they do catch the bug, they can become seriously unwell.
They advised pregnant women, people with weakened immune systems and anyone taking medication that can weaken the immune system — including cancer, diabetes, liver and kidney disease patients — to avoid the foods.
Previously, its advice had been that it is fine for at-risk groups to eat these foods if they are cooked. But now, it is telling the vulnerable to ‘avoid’ the products — ‘but if you choose not to follow this advice, make sure you thoroughly cook it’.
As the risk of severe illness from listeriosis increases with age, the FSA also advised the elderly to be wary.
Professor Robin May, FSA chief scientific adviser, said: ‘Our risk assessment shows that there is still an ongoing risk to health associated with eating cold-smoked fish for specific groups of vulnerable people.
‘In light of the risk assessment, we are advising that these consumers avoid ready-to-eat cold-smoked and cured fish products.
‘If you are in the group of people more at risk of listeria infection, and you decide to consume these products, we strongly recommend that you first cook them until steaming hot all the way through.
‘This will ensure that any listeria present in the product is killed before it is eaten.’
‘Cold-smoked’ fish is normally labelled as ‘smoked’ fish on packaging.
Ready-to-eat cold-smoked fish typically comes in thin slices, and it can be eaten cold. It may also be found in sushi.
Once thoroughly cooked, the smoked fish is safe to eat, and can be served immediately, or served cold after being chilled in the fridge.
If adding cold-smoked fish to dishes like cooked pasta or scrambled eggs, the FSA says it is important to cook it first. This is because warming it through will not heat the fish to a high enough temperature to kill any listeria present.
Dr Gauri Godbole, consultant microbiologist at UKHSA, said: ‘While smoked fish has a higher risk of carrying listeria, the overall risk to the population is very low.
‘However, some people are more likely to get a serious infection including those who are pregnant and those with weakened immune systems. The risk also increases with age.’
The FSA noted that cases of listeriosis from smoked fish remain rare overall and those who have recently eaten the foods only need to seek NHS care — by calling 111 or their GP practice — if they are in a risk group and develop symptoms of listeriosis.