Blue Bell Creameries recently announced its decision to yank all products made in all facilities from store shelves. This includes ice cream, frozen yogurt, sherbet and other frozen products. The recall comes after 10 people were admitted to the hospital, and three have died, due to an an outbreak of listeria that has been traced to Blue Bell brand ice cream.

So what is listeria and how do you know if you've been infected? Read on to learn the facts about this rare but deadly bacteria.

What is listeria?

Listeria monocytogenes is a hardy bacterium found in soil and water that can be tracked into a manufacturing plant or carried by animals. Unlike many other types of bacteria, listeria likes the cold, making it hard to get rid of once it has contaminated an area. In addition to the treats mentioned above, listeria has been found in processed meats, apples, hummus, spinach, unpasteurized cheeses and unpasteurized milk. Listeria was also found in cantaloupes in a 2011 outbreak that led to 30 deaths. 

Who is at risk from listeria?

While many people may become infected with listeria, most will not develop any symptoms. Listeriosis, the illness caused by bacteria, is generally most detrimental to children, the elderly, pregnant women, and other people with compromised immune systems. In the U.S., an estimated 1,600 people become seriously ill each year and 16 percent of those cases result in death, making listeria the third-ranking cause of food poisoning deaths in the country.

What are the symptoms of listeriosis?

When listeriosis strikes, it brings on symptoms similar to the stomach flu — nausea, muscle aches and a high fever. It can also cause diarrhea and other types of gastrointestinal upset. 

How is a listeria infection treated?

Most people with mild symptoms don't need treatment. More serious infections can be treated with antibiotics.

How can I protect myself from listeria?

For starters, if you have any Blue Bell products in your fridge or freezer, toss them in the trash. Wash any areas of the kitchen that they touched with hot, soapy water. Then continue to follow safe food handling guidelines. Cook foods properly, wash fruits and vegetables before eating, and eat any leftovers within a few days.

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