Pregnant women from ethnic minorities and people from poor backgrounds are more likely to suffer from listeria, figures have revealed.
The Health Protection Agency (HPA) said 1,510 cases of listeria were recorded between 2001 and 2008 in England and Wales with 181 among pregnant women, and almost 40% (66 women) of those being from an ethnic minority.
Listeria is a type of food-poisoning bacteria, that is dangerous among those with weak immune systems, including pregnant women and the over-60s.
In a separate study covering 2001 and 2007, more listeria cases were revealed in the most deprived areas of England, compared with the most affluent.
Residents in the deprived areas relied more on convenience stores and local shops (such as butchers, bakers, fishmongers and greengrocers) for food shopping than the rest of the population.
Other studies have shown that small shop owners do not have the same food safety expertise as larger retail companies, thereby increasing the risks of food becoming contaminated.
More deprived people are also more likely to take greater risks with food safety.
Dr Iain Gillespie, Head of Listeria Surveillance at the HPA, said: "The first HPA study suggests that these food safety messages may not be reaching, or may not be heeded by, all pregnant women, particularly those from ethnic minorities.
"The second suggests that deprivation is an important risk factor for listeriosis, especially in older people and in pregnant women."