Listeria Tainted Celery Linked to Deadly OutbreakOct 22, 2010 | Parker Waichman LLP
A Listeria outbreak in Texas that has sickened six and killed a least four people has been linked to celery distributed by SanGar Fresh Cut Produce. Texas regulators have shut down the San Antonio vegetable processor, and a recall has been issued for all of SanGar’s products processed since January.
The Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) is also trying to determine if four additional Listeria cases and one additional death are tied to SanGar products. The illnesses occurred in Bexar, Travis and Hidalgo counties. All of the illnesses were in people with serious underlying health problems.
According to a DSHS statement, laboratory tests of chopped celery from the plant indicated the presence of Listeria monocytogenes, a bacterium that can cause severe illness. Inspectors also discovered sanitation issues at the plant and believe the Listeria found in the chopped celery may have contaminated other food produced there. The department found a condensation leak above a food product area, soil on a preparation table and hand washing issues.
The recalled products – primarily cut fresh produce, including lettuce, pineapple and honeydew in sealed packages – were distributed to restaurants and institutional entities, such as hospitals and schools, and are not believed to be sold in grocery stores.
While it was initially believed that the recalled products were only distributed in Texas, USA Today is reporting that the Website for SanGar Produce and Processing, at the same address as SanGar Fresh Cut Produce, said its products are shipped “indirectly through several of our customers” into Oklahoma. The US Food & Drug Administration is now investigating the outbreak, and could decide to expand the recall.
According to the Associated Press, there have been three reported cases of listeriosis in Oklahoma this year, but the state is not aware of any cases connected to the recall
A Texas health department spokesperson told the Associated Press that the state asked SanGar to close the plant voluntarily, but it refused. The state then ordered the shutdown. SanGar will not be able to reopen the facility without the health department’s approval.
Listeria symptoms may include fever, muscle aches, and gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea or diarrhea. If the infection spreads to the nervous system, symptoms may include headache, stiff neck, or confusion. The illness is most dangerous for pregnant women, the elderly, very young children, and those with weakened immune systems.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, Listeria kills about 500 people each year in the US and about 2,500 people become seriously ill.