The Real Deal: Listeria monocytogenes, a bacteria found in soil, water, and the intestines of food-producing animals, lurks almost everywhere, including hard-to-clean places in processing plants like drains. The bacteria can contaminate cooked deli meats, unpasteurized cheeses, and precooked packaged seafood. Because Listeria thrives in cold temperatures, it can survive in the grocery store's cooler and your fridge, making all packaged meats and seafood risky. For guaranteed-safe cold cuts, look for the words "bacteriophage preparation" on the package. This means that the meat's been treated with a spray, called LMP 102, recently approved to kill lingering bacteria.
The upside is that most people aren't affected by Listeria; at most it can cause mild flu-like symptoms. The majority of the 2,500 cases a year (including about 500 deaths from it) occur in people with compromised immune systems or in the elderly, young children, and pregnant women. Expectant mothers, for example, are 20 times more likely to contract the bacteria, which can pass into the placenta and raise the risk for premature delivery or miscarriage.
Cook or boil hot dogs before eating
"Microwave for one minute on high, making sure the food rotates so the heat goes all the way through," suggests Bhunia.
Avoid eating refrigerated seafood like smoked whitefish or lox
To kill off any bacteria, you must cook it first.