Listeria monocytogenes has been found in three of 100 environmental samples, and in one product sample, taken in spring 2016 at a fresh fruit processing facility in Vernon, California. U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) inspectors collected the samples at the Simply Fresh Fruit Inc. plant in April and May.
Whole genome sequencing analysis determined the four samples to be the same strain of listeria. On October 19, 2016, a warning letter was sent from the FDA’s Los Angeles District Office to William T. Sander, Simply Fresh Fruit company president, two of the positive environmental swabs were collected in areas next to food contact surfaces. The
third positive swab was collected from the blade of a squeegee used to push excess water into the drain on the floor, according to the FDA warning letter.
The FDA noted that finished produce products from the Simply Fresh Fruit facility were found to be positive for listeria in the spring. The personal injury law firm Parker Waichman notes that foodborne illness and the safety of the food supply are serious concerns.
The Threat of Foodborne Illnesses
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) calculates 48 million people in the United States become ill from a foodborne illness such as listeria, salmonella, and E. coli each year. More than a quarter-million of people who become ill require hospitalization, and about 3,000 people die annually of a foodborne illness. The majority of those taken ill recover completely from the illness, but some people suffer lasting injuries, including kidney and liver damage.
Foodborne illness not only have health consequences but also economic impact in the form of medical expenses and lost wages.
Listeriosis, a serious infection usually caused by eating food contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes bacteria, is an important public health problem in the United States. Older adults, pregnant women, newborns, and anyone with a weakened immune system are at greatest risk for serious illness, though even those at lower risk can become seriously ill. Listeriosis is treated with antibiotics but, the CDC notes, even with prompt treatment, listeriosis can result in death.
Symptoms of listeriosis include fever and muscle aches, sometimes preceded by diarrhea or other gastrointestinal symptoms. Almost everyone who is diagnosed with listeriosis has “invasive” infection, in which the bacteria spread beyond the gastrointestinal tract. The symptoms vary from person to person. Pregnant women typically experience fever and symptoms such as fatigue and aches. Listeria infections during pregnancy can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, premature delivery, or a life-threatening infection of the newborn. For people other than pregnant women, symptoms can include headache, stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance, and convulsions in addition to fever and muscle aches.
The FDA has recommendations for safe food handling that can reduce the threat of listeria infections. Consumers should thoroughly rinse raw fruits and vegetables under running tap water before eating, cutting, or cooking. Even if the produce will be peeled, it should still be washed first. Firm produce, such as melons and cucumbers, should be scrubbed with a clean produce brush. The produce should be dried with a clean cloth or paper towel. When storing foods, uncooked meats and poultry should be separated from vegetables, cooked foods, and ready-to-eat foods. Meat and poultry should be thoroughly cooked before they are eaten.
Frequent hand washing is an important way to prevent foodborne illnesses. Consumers should wash and disinfect kitchen equipment, appliances, and countertops, being careful to clean up spills in the refrigerator.
Call for Reform in Food Recall Process
U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer has criticized the FDA for not being fast enough in recalling potentially dangerous food. Earlier this year, in response to a report from the department of Health and Human Services on food recalls, Schumer called for top-to-bottom reform of the recall process. “Delays in getting bad food off store shelves is just a recipe for disaster,” Schumer said in a July 31 press release, Politico reports. “[T]the FDA must come to the table with a healthy, new plan, detailing how they will revamp and execute a reformed food recall process . . . that gets potentially contaminated food off the shelves before Americans risk getting sick, not after.”
The Simply Fresh Fruit recall illustrates some of the problems with the system. The Simply Fresh Fruit website explains some of the company’s food safety practices, its HACCP (hazard analysis and critical control points) plan and inspection protocols, but as of November 8, nothing was posted under the Product Alerts tab about the listeria finding. . The FDA notice about the company’s April recall of cantaloupe and fruit mixes with cantaloupe for possible listeria contamination was not posted, nor was that news evident on the company’s website. But at that time, a recall notice was posted by the FDA and also by the California Department of Public Health.
Though the FDA has had the authority to mandate food recalls since 2011, most food recalls are still voluntary. Recalls are usually undertaken by the food producer in coordination with the FDA found that the FDA could be slow to force a recall even after determining that a food posed a health hazard. The inspector general wrote to FDA Commissioner Robert Califf calling for improvements in the food recall process.
David Plunkett, senior food safety attorney at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said the FDA should be using its authority under the 2011 food safety law to order food recalls, instead of waiting for manufacturers to issue voluntary recalls.
Legal Help for Victims of Listeriosis or Other Foodborne Illness
If you or someone in your family has suffered listeriosis or another foodborne illness, you should contact the Parker Waichman LLP about your legal rights. Please contact the firm should contact Parker Waichman LLP today about your legal rights. Our experienced attorneys will provide a free, no obligation evaluation of your case. To reach an attorney, fill out the firm’s online form or call 1-800-YOURLAWYER (1-800-968-7529).