Listeria cases have increased among two groups of the population: people over 75 and women aged 25-44 (believed to be mainly pregnancy-related).
This is one of the main conclusions of a European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) scientific opinion on Listeria monocytogenes and risks to public health from consumption of contaminated ready-to-eat food.
The opinion covers the period 2008-2015.
Experts began work on the scientific opinion after the 2015 EU summary report on foodborne zoonotic diseases identified an increasing trend of listeriosis over the period 2009-2013.
They concluded that the higher incidence of listeriosis among the elderly was likely linked to the increased proportion of people aged over 45 with underlying health conditions, such as cancer and diabetes.
The rise in consumption of ready-to-eat foods and an improved monitoring system in some Member States may also have contributed to this trend.
Most people get infected through the consumption of ready-to-eat foods such as smoked and cured fish, heat treated meat and soft and semi-soft cheese.
However, other foods – such as prepared salads – can also lead to infections.
Experts estimated that one third of cases of listeriosis are due to growth of Listeria monocytogenes in food prepared and stored at home in the refrigerator.
This highlights the importance of following good hygiene practices, such as respecting recommended storage temperatures and times.
International organizations such as the World Health Organization advise that foods should be refrigerated below 5°C.
This scientific opinion was finalized after considering more than 200 comments received during a public consultation.