FDA Confirms Listeria in Celery from Texas Food Processing Plant

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On October 20, the Texas Department of State Health Services ordered SanGar Fresh Cut Produce to immediately stop processing food and to recall all of its products that were shipped since January from its San Antonio plant after tests came back positive for Listeria monocytogenes in chopped celery. This week, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) confirmed that the contaminated food product is linked to severe results in four people.

Inspectors Find Several Food Safety Issues at San Antonio Plant

An FDA spokeswoman, Carrie Williams, states that during an investigation of 10 cases of listeriosis the agency discovered that four people died after consuming celery processed at the Texas-based food processing plant. The victims were residents of Bexar, Travis, and Hidalgo counties in Texas.

Listeria monocytogenes is a bacteria commonly found in the soil and water and in both domesticated and wild animals. It can leach into vegetables either from the ground or from the manure that is used as fertilizer. Listeriosis, the illness caused by listeria bacteria, sickens about 2500 Americans each year, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Symptoms include fever, muscle aches, and sometimes gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea or diarrhea.

Pregnant women, newborns and persons with weakened immune systems are most at risk of serious illness from listeriosis.

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Read: Listeriosis Exposure Can Result in Stillbirth

The FDA has inspected the plant and found that Listeria monocytogenes was found in processed celery and in multiple other locations, including food contact surfaces. The listeria found in the samples matched the DNA fingerprint of the clinical cases of listeriosis reported to the Texas Department of State Health Services, said the FDA in a statement.

The inspections also revealed a condensation leak above a food product area, dirt on a food preparation table, hoses making contact with food, bagged carrots stored on a wet floor, lack of adequate drainage areas, food not held at proper temperature, and hand washing problems.

Read: Avoid Food Borne Illness

SanGar processes a wide variety of produce, according to a CNN report, including lettuce, peppers, carrots, cucumbers, salad, cut fruit and soup mixes. They are distributed to restaurants, hospitals, schools and other large institutions in sealed packages.

SanGar has since brought in an independent listeria expert to review its protocols and inspect equipment, says company attorney Jason Galvan. The entire facility was cleaned and they are “optimistic about having the company up and running”, he says.

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