The FDA has released a 483 inspection report about the conditions at CRF Frozen Foods plant in Pasco, Washington. That report, released on May 12, 2016, gives more information about the conditions at that plant. Food produced at that facility has been linked to a Listeria monocytogenes outbreak that goes back to 2013, and has led to dozens of frozen produce recalls. At least eight people in three states have been sickened in this outbreak.
Damaged equipment described as being “impossible to clean” could be a factor in this contamination. The inspection, conducted March 14 to March 17, 2016, may provide some insight into how the produce was contaminated.
The company was told on April 25, 2016 that a Listeria monocytogenes outbreak going back to 2013 was linked to its products by whole genome sequencing, a form of DNA testing. The company recalled some of its products then, and expanded that recall to include all food produced at the plant in Pasco since May 2014.
The report states that a white plastic shovel used for food contact had chips and cracks near the food end. Blue tape was used as a temporary fix to a cracked metal plate above the consumer pack line. Chipping, cracking, and missing pieces of plastic were found on the onion line. A clear plastic shield was ripped in the middle and was broken and cracked on both edges. A plastic conveyer belt had pieces of plastic missing on its legs, which come into direct contact with the onions. And utility knives used to slice the onions had etched initials on the blades.
Once Listeria bacteria has gotten into a building, it hides in cracks and crevices. It is very difficult to eradicate from any moist environment, such as a food processing facility. It grows at refrigerator temperatures and freezing does not kill it. Once a food manufacturer finds this bacteria in a building, they must go to all lengths possible to destroy it. Cracked and broken equipment is not easy to clean and cannot be properly maintained.
The Ohio Department of Agriculture found “closely related” strains of Listeria bacteria on Meijer brand frozen organic white sweet corn and frozen organic petite green peas that were produced by CRF Frozen Foods.
But the FDA is not sure that these problems at the plant are the root cause of the contamination and illnesses. Onions from Oregon Potato Company in Pasco Washington may be one of the culprits. Samples taken from that facility in March 2016 yielded Listeria bacteria that were also closely related to seven of the isolates taken from ill patients. Oregon Potato Company recalled its wholesale onion products after this information was made public.
Food Poisoning Bulletin has been keeping track of the secondary recalls for you. You can see them here; this list will be updated as new recalls are issued.
The symptoms of listeriosis, the illness caused by this bacteria, are similar to the flu. They include stiff neck, severe headache, muscle aches, nausea, abdominal pain, and diarrhea. The symptoms, unfortunately, can take up to 70 days to appear, even though most get sick within about three weeks. This can make identification of the illness more difficult, since most people can’t remember what they ate after that length of time.
If you have eaten any of the recalled CRF or Oregon Potato Company products and have experienced these symptoms, see your doctor. Listeriosis is a serious illness that can be deadly, and have devastating consequences for pregnant women. These women can suffer miscarriage, stillbirth, and premature labor even though their illnesses are mild.