Weight Watchers Recalls Frozen Dessert for Possible Listeria

Public Health Watchdog Breaking News
Public Health Watchdog Breaking News

Weight Watchers has recalled 100,000 cases of Smart Ones frozen desserts containing pieces of cookie dough because of Listeria monocytogenes contamination.

According to the product recall announcement on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) website, “This issue was identified when Aspen Hills, the supplier of the cookie dough pieces used as an ingredient in Weight Watchers Smart Ones Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Sundae frozen desserts, reported positive test results for Listeria monocytogenes.” Parker Waichman notes that listeria bacteria can survive for a long time in a food processing plant and contaminate food products being made.

Frozen Dessert May be Contaminated with Listeria

One flavor of Weight Watchers Smart Ones desserts is subject to the recall: Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Sundae, which is packaged under 21 different date codes, ranging from December 28, 2016, through July 28, 2017. The recalled desserts were distributed across the country. Consumers can read the full recall notice on the FDA website for the date codes and other label information.

A spokeswoman for Weight Watchers said Kraft Heinz Company, the manufacturer and marketer of Weight Watchers Smart Ones products, issued the recall. Once the issue was identified, Kraft Heinz immediately began an investigation and decided to make a voluntary recall as a precautionary measure, the company’s statement said.  Consumers can contact Kraft Heinz at 866-572-3805, Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. EST, for a full refund.

Weight Watchers says that to date there has have been no consumer complaints or reports of illnesses related to listeria contamination. “No other sizes, varieties or code dates of Weight Watchers Smart Ones products are included in this recall.”

Weight Watchers is only one among a number of companies that have recently recalled products because of contaminated cookie dough from supplier Aspen Hills Inc. of Garner, IA. Chocolate Shoppe Ice Cream Co., Blue Bell Creameries, Blue Bunny, House of Flavor, Nutrisystem and Publix have also recalled products containing Aspen Hills cookie dough.

According to Aspen Hills’ website states, “daily production capacity is 180,000 lbs. of product.” The Iowa facility was designed for large-scale cookie dough production and has an onsite freezer that can store 15 semi-trailer loads of cookie dough, according to the website.

Listeria Contamination and Illness

When listeria bacteria get into a food processing factory, the bacteria can live there for years and can contaminate food products such as uncooked meats and vegetables; unpasteurized (raw) milk and cheeses as well as other foods made from unpasteurized milk; cooked or processed foods, including certain soft cheeses, processed (or ready-to-eat) meats, and smoked seafood.

Cooking and pasteurization kill listeria bacteria. But ready-to-eat meats, such as hot dogs and deli meats, may be contaminated after factory cooking but before packaging or even at the deli counter. Mexican-style cheeses made from pasteurized milk and likely contaminated during cheese making have caused listeria infections.

Healthy individuals usually suffer only short-term symptoms from listeria infection, including high fever, severe headache, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea. But listeria infection can cause serious and even fatal infections in newborns, young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. In addition, listeria infection can cause miscarriages and stillbirths among pregnant women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The infection is treated with antibiotics and more serious cases of listeriosis can require hospitalization.

The CDC estimates that approximately 1600 illnesses and 260 deaths due to listeriosis occur annually in the United States. Foodborne illnesses not only have health consequences, they also have an economic impact in the form of medical expenses and lost wages. Restaurants and food retailers lose business and restaurants involved in food poisoning outbreaks may have difficulty regaining the public’s trust. Food production facilities may have to halt production, destroy tainted inventory, and undertake costly cleaning and disinfecting.

In investigating foodborne disease outbreaks, public health and regulatory officials need to quickly collect as much information as possible it, so they can take action to prevent more people from getting sick. Health officials assess epidemiologic, traceback, and food and environmental testing evidence to find the likely source of the outbreak. They then take action, including warnings to the public, when there is clear and convincing information linking illness to a contaminated food.

Listeria Present at Ice Cream Production Facilities

Texas-based Blue Bell Creameries discovered Listeria monocytogenes in cookie dough from Aspen Hills Inc. during product testing at one of its plants in September, Food Safety News reports. At that time, Aspen Hills recalled some cookie dough and began an in-house investigation. The company reported that it did not find listeria in its products or plant, according to a statement issued in October, but Aspen Hills did uncover food safety issues, which resulted in a cookie dough recall.

The recall notice was not made public, however, and was sent only to the 27 food companies that had received shipments of Aspen Hills cookie dough produced from July 15 through Sept. 30. All ice creams produced by Aspen Hills during that period are being recalled.

FDA Urges Consumers to be Alert for Listeria Symptoms

No illnesses had been reported in connection to any of the recalled cookie dough or recalled products made with it, as of the posting dates of the individual recalls. But symptoms of listeriosis can take up to 70 days to emerge after an individual has eaten tainted food and so illnesses may still emerge from ice creams made with Aspen Hills cookie dough. Food contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes may not look, smell or taste bad.

Anyone who has eaten any of the recalled ice cream or frozen desserts and has developed symptoms of listeria infection should seek medical attention and inform their doctors about the possible exposure to the listeria.

Legal Help for Those Sickened by Tainted Food

If you or someone you know has suffered a listeria infection, you may be entitled to compensation. For a free, no obligation evaluation of your situation, contact the attorneys at Parker Waichman LLP. To reach the firm, fill out the online form or call 1-800-YOURLAWYER (1-800-968-7529).