Recent recall results in frozen food fears

May 10, 2016

The frozen food section has been hit once again with a large recall of more than 350 frozen fruits and vegetables including green beans, broccoli, peas and blueberries sold under 42 brands at several different grocers in the U.S and Canada. Announced last week by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the items have been recalled for Listeria monocytogenes bacteria and have been linked to illnesses reported as far back as 2013.

This comes as the second high profile recall in the last year for frozen food items, as Listeria monocytogenes bacteria was also linked to ice cream and was responsible for several illnesses and even death in multiple states.

While many think that frozen temperatures can keep foodborne bacteria at bay, this is not the case for Listeria monocytogenes. Although it is less common than other foodborne pathogens like Salmonella or E. coli, it is the most lethal and can enter the bloodstream causing listeriosis — a dangerous infection that kills one in five victims.

In this case, an article explains that so far the CDC knows of eight people who have been sickened — six in California and one each in Washington and Maryland. The Washington and Maryland patients died, but Listeria has not been considered the ultimate cause of death.

The outbreak is thought to have begun in 2013 with one illness, followed by five more in 2015 and two in 2016. While it may seem as if this outbreak is unfolding in slow motion, the article explains that this is because the CDC has a new tool to track the bacteria's spread: the sequenced genome of Listeria.

While investigating a small cluster of 2016 illnesses, the CDC searched its database of previously sequenced Listeria genomes and found matches from bacteria that had sickened people in previous years.

The CDC's venture into whole-genome sequencing has allowed the agency to identify more Listeria outbreaks, especially more that span longer periods of time. Last year, the CDC announced two outbreaks that began in 2010.

Michael Doyle, professor of food microbiology at the University of Georgia and director of the school's Center for Food Safety, says he thinks that "resident" Listeria caused the outbreak. Rather than "transient" bacteria that contaminate a food and move through a processing system with it, resident bacteria establish themselves somewhere in the processing plant and persist over several years.

"The organism is quite hardy," he said in the article.

To make sure you have not purchased recalled products, check the UPC codes and "best by" dates on the vegetable packages in your freezer against the FDA's list. If they match, you can return the recalled food to the store for a refund, or simply discard it. Either way, do not consume the food.

If you have already eaten recalled foods and have symptoms such as fever, stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance and convulsions, seek medical care, the article explains. Sometimes listeriosis symptoms develop up to two months after eating contaminated food, but they usually start within several days.

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Category: Food Safety