Listeria outbreak leads to huge recall of frozen fruits, vegetables

May 24, 2016 Providence Health Team

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is asking consumers to check the packaging dates on all of the frozen fruits and vegetables they buy or have at home due to a multi-state outbreak of listeria, a life-threatening food-borne illness.

Eight people have been infected with strains of listeria identified in the outbreak, according to the CDC.

Evidence so far indicates the tainted food likely originated at CRF Frozen Foods in Pasco, Washington, but the CDC says it’s looking at CRF’s food sources to see if they also could explain some of the contamination.

Check your frozen produce

CFR Frozen Foods began recalling 11 frozen vegetables on April 23 and expanded the list to include 42 brands on May 2. Now, close to 350 frozen fruits and vegetables sold in the U.S. and Canada are on the list. Some of the more well-known brands include Earth's Pride, Panda Express, Signature Kitchens and Trader Joe's.

Before you go shopping, take a look at the brands on the recall list to see if any of your favorite frozen produce is included. Then look at the packaging for food you buy, and food you already have at home, for the “best by” date. All of the recalled products have “best by” dates between April 26, 2016, and April 26, 2018.

Listeria is caused by eating food tainted with the bacteria Listeria monocytogenes, commonly found in soil and water. The bacterium can live for years once it makes its way into a food-processing factory, according to the CDC.

8 people infected

The CDC says eight people have been infected with the listeria strains in question since September 2013. Those infected were described as:

  • Mostly female
  • 56 to 86 years old
  • Residents of  Washington, Maryland and California

All eight were hospitalized. Two of the people died, one in Washington and one in Maryland, but the CDC said listeria was not considered the cause of death for either person.

Symptoms and risk factors

Listeria bacteria can be found in a variety of foods, including:

  • Uncooked meats and vegetables
  • Unpasteurized milk and cheeses
  • Cooked or processed food such as ready-to-eat meats

Those most at risk for listeria are older adults, pregnant women, newborns and adults with weakened immune systems. Common symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Muscle aches
  • Diarrhea or other gastrointestinal problems
  • Stiff neck
  • Confusion
  • Loss of balance
  • Convulsions

In pregnant women, listeria can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, premature delivery and life-threatening infection in newborns. Older adults and those with compromised immune systems can develop meningitis and blood poisoning.

How to prevent listeria

The Food and Drug Administration offers these guidelines for safe handling and preparation of fresh produce. Start by washing your hands with soap and warm water. Then:

  • Cut away any damaged or bruised areas on fresh fruits and vegetables before preparing. Throw away any produce that looks rotten.
  • Wash all produce – whether grown at home or store bought -- under running water. Don’t wash fruits and vegetables with soap or detergents.
  • Even if you do not plan to eat the skin of the fruit or vegetable, it is still important to wash produce so dirt and bacteria are not transferred from the surface when peeling or cutting the produce.
  • Scrub firm produce such as melons and cucumbers with a clean produce brush.
  • Dry produce with a clean cloth or paper towel to further reduce any remaining bacteria.

If you have questions about listeria and food safety, talk with your health care provider. You can find a Providence provider here.

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