Food items re­called over lis­te­ria scare

14 com­pa­nies in­volved

The Washington Times Daily - - NATION - BY LAURA KELLY

At least 14 U.S. food com­pa­nies this month have is­sued vol­un­tary re­calls for prod­ucts vul­ner­a­ble to lis­te­ria, a bac­te­rial in­fec­tion that poses dan­gers to preg­nant women, in­fants, the el­derly and any­one with a weak­ened im­mune sys­tem.

About 1,600 peo­ple each year are sick­ened by lis­te­ria, which can cause di­ar­rhea, fever, fa­tigue, mus­cle aches and death. About 260 die an­nu­ally from lis­te­ria-re­lated ill­ness.

All of the food com­pa­nies that have is­sued re­calls said no ill­nesses re­lated to their prod­ucts had been re­ported.

On Mon­day, House of Thaller in Knoxville, Ten­nessee, re­called select pack­ages of hum­mus be­cause a sup­plier no­ti­fied the com­pany that one of the in­gre­di­ents had the po­ten­tial for con­tam­i­na­tion of Lis­te­ria mono­cy­to­genes.

Last week, re­calls were is­sued for an an­i­mal food prod­uct, a chick­pea snack, and al­mond and cashew but­ter be­cause the food com­pa­nies had dis­cov­ered lis­te­ria some­where along the pro­duc­tion line. It was not known if the prod­ucts con­tained lis­te­ria, but the po­ten­tial of sick­en­ing the pub­lic prompted the re­calls.

Ac­cord­ing to the Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion, food­borne ill­nesses gen­er­ally in­crease in the sum­mer be­cause bac­te­ria mul­ti­ply faster in warm weather.

But lis­te­ria also thrives in the cold, so bac­te­ria can grow in re­frig­er­ated items and in­fect other food through con­tact.

The FDA does not con­sider the spate of re­calls a “lis­te­ria out­break” be­cause no ill­nesses have been re­ported.

Out­breaks are not un­com­mon: Since the start of this year, two peo­ple have died and eight oth­ers have been hos­pi­tal­ized for lis­te­ria con­tam­i­na­tion from Vulto Cream­ery raw milk cheeses.

The worst U.S. out­break in al­most a cen­tury was in 2011, when 33 peo­ple died and 143 were hos­pi­tal­ized, with one woman suf­fer­ing a mis­car­riage, af­ter con­sum­ing lis­te­ria-con­tam­i­nated can­taloupe.

At the time of the out­break, pub­lic health of­fi­cials and in­ves­ti­ga­tors worked fever­ishly across 28 states to de­ter­mine the source of the in­fec­tion.

Pa­tient in­ter­views and med­i­cal tests led the fed­eral Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Preven­tion to nar­row their search to a spe­cific brand of can­taloupe, and test­ing of the fruit proved pos­i­tive for lis­te­ria.

The in­fec­tion was traced to con­tam­i­nated can­taloupe pro­duced by Jensen Farms, run by broth­ers Eric and Ryan Jensen. The fa­cil­ity was found to be teem­ing with lis­te­ria bac­te­ria.

The Jensen broth­ers pleaded guilty to mis­de­meanor counts of in­tro­duc­ing con­tam­i­nated food into in­ter­state com­merce, for which they could have faced up to six years in prison and $1.5 mil­lion in fines. They were sen­tenced to six months of house ar­rest as part of five years’ pro­ba­tion and 100 hours of com­mu­nity ser­vice. They also were or­dered to pay $150,000 in resti­tu­tion to the vic­tims.

A full list of re­cently re­called items is avail­able on the FDA web­site.

The FDA rec­om­mends safe food-han­dling tech­niques, such as chill­ing food to 40 de­grees Fahren­heit or lower, prop­erly seal­ing foods in a re­frig­er­a­tor or freezer, and keep­ing food prepa­ra­tion areas clean. Pre­cooked and ready-to-eat foods should be con­sumed quickly; the longer they are stored, the more po­ten­tial for lis­te­ria to de­velop and grow.

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