Listeria strains isolated from environmental samples collected at Oregon Potato Co. in Pasco, Wash. closely resemble the strain linked to a multistate Listeria outbreak, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The outbreak, linked to frozen vegetables, has triggered the recall of hundreds of products sold under dozens of brand names.
Earlier this this week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identified CRF Frozen Foods of Pasco, Wash. as one likely source of this outbreak. CRF packages and markets frozen vegetables and fruits. Oregon Potato is a grower and processor of fruits and vegetables including potatoes, carrots, corn, asparagus, peppers, peas, apples, pineapples and onions. Both companies have plants in Pasco.
In March 2016, the FDA found that genetic tests on Listeria in environmental samples it collected from Oregon Potato’s Pasco location showed a close relation to Listeria strains isolated from seven people sickened in this outbreak. After receiving this information from the FDA, Oregon potato recalled its wholesale onion products.
The date of that recall has not been made public. It was not posted on the FDA website, but affected retailers posted Listeria recalls for PictSweet vegetables on their websites on April 11. Schuncks was the only retailer to state that the recall was triggered because chopped onions from Oregon Potato Company (doing business as “Freeze Pack”) may be contaminated with Listeria.
The FDA says it is further analyzing the supply chain of companies associated with this outbreak but is “prohibited by law from releasing publicly certain information about supply chains, which may constitute confidential commercial information.”
The agency’s next step will be to determine if the Listeria from environmental samples taken from Oregon Potato are related to strains cultured from packages of CRF vegetables. That these tests were also performed during March seems to be a happy accident courtesy of a routine product sampling program in Ohio.
Random sampling programs are where public health officials buy products from grocery stores and test them for bacteria. In March, the Ohio Department of Agriculture tested packages of True Goodness by Meijer brand frozen organic white sweet cut corn and True Goodness by Meijer brand frozen organic petite green peas and found then to be contaminated with a Listeria strain closely related to the strain cultured from the case patients identified in this outbreak.
Specifically, whole genome sequencing tests showed that the Listeria monocytogenes isolate from the frozen corn was closely related genetically to seven bacterial isolates from ill people, and the Listeria monocytogenes isolate from the frozen peas was closely related genetically to one isolate from an ill person, the FDA stated in its report. True Goodness by Meijer is produced at CRF’s Pasco facility.
The investigation into this outbreak is ongoing. So far, at least eight people in three states have been sickened. All of the case patients were hospitalized and two people died, although listeriosis was not considered to be the cause of death for either of them, the CDC said.
CRf has issued a recall for 358 consumer products sold under 42 brand names. And some PictSweet brand are also under recall.
Public health officials urge consumers to check their freezers for these products. Anyone who has purchased a recalled product should not eat it as Listeria can cause serious illness and death. Opened product should be photographed and then disposed of in a sealed plastic bag. Surfaces that the bag or vegetables have touched should be cleaned thoroughly followed by careful hand washing. Listeria is not killed by cold temperatures.
Symptoms of a Listeria infection can take as long as 70 days to develop. They include: nausea and diarrhea followed by fever, headache, stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance, and muscle aches. Young children, seniors, pregnant women and people with compromised immune systems are most at risk for Listeria infections. Among pregnant women, Listeria can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, premature delivery and illness in newborns.
Consumers who have eaten the recalled products and developed symptoms should see a doctor and report exposure to Listeria. A culture of a stool sample can determine if you are part of this outbreak. So far, six cases have been reported from California, and one each from Maryland and Washington.