Elisa Shackelton: Free workshops show how to make queso fresco safely

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I recently attended the 2006 Food Safety Education Conference sponsored by the United State Department of Agriculture and the Center for Disease Control, and even though there was a great deal of attention given to the recent E. coli outbreaks, the food pathogen that received even more attention was Listeria monocytogenes, a relatively new player in the field of foodborne illness. Ever since the U.S. government became aware of listeriosis, they have been closely tracking outbreaks and the causes.

Listeria is found in soft cheeses or other products made from unpasteurized milk, as well as processed foods that become contaminated, such as hot dogs, deli meats and luncheon meats. What is really scary about Listeria is that, unlike most other foodborne bacteria, it can grow at refrigeration temperatures. To rid ready-to-eat meat products of Listeria, pregnant women and other high-risk individuals (cancer patients, transplant recipients, people with HIV/AIDS, the elderly, etc.) are being advised to heat ready-to-eat meat products to steaming hot or 165 degrees F before eating.

Listeriosis affects people of all races and genders, but pregnant women are 20 times more likely than other healthy adults to get listeriosis. Because listeriosis is tricky to detect, it's very possible that we each know someone who has lost a baby because of listeriosis but it wasn't diagnosed or recorded. Hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy affect the mother's immune system, which leads to greater susceptibility to listerosis. Studies have also revealed that pregnant U.S. Hispanic women are more likely to get listeriosis due to eating homemade Mexican-style soft cheeses made with unpasteurized milk. Tuberculosis and Brucellosis have also been linked to the consumption of cheese made with unpasteurized milk.

Listeriosis can cause fever, chills, muscle aches, nausea and diarrhea, or upset stomach. If infection spreads to the nervous system, it can lead to headaches, stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance, or convulsions. In extreme cases, death can occur. Even if a woman has no symptoms, listeriosis can still severely affect the unborn baby. It can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, premature labor, the delivery of a low-birth-weight infant, a wide range of health problems for a newborn, or even infant death. Symptoms can occur within a few days or even weeks after eating the contaminated food.

Through grant funds from The Colorado Trust's Equality in Health initiative in an effort to help residents of Northwest Colorado avoid the risks associated with Listeria, free cheese making workshops will be held on Dec. 9 at the Colorado State University Moffat County Extension Office. Spanish interpretation will be available, as well as both English and Spanish recipes and handouts. Participants will assist in the making of queso fresco using pasteurized milk and a Mexican-style cheese that is a staple in many Hispanic diets. Pre-registration is required to insure adequate supplies. Please call 824-9180 to register in English, or 846-5521 to register in Spanish. Be sure to indicate the session you would like to attend:

n 8 a.m. to 10 a.m.,

n 10 a.m. to noon,

n Noon to 2 p.m., or

n 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.

For more information, contact Elisa at the CSU Moffat County Extension Office, 824-9180, or Summer Laws at Comunidad Integrada/Integrated Community, 846-5521.

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