Listeria | Image courtesy Nathan Reading | Flickr

Listeriosis is the term used to describe the illness that people, especially the very young, older people, pregnant women, and immune-compromised people, develop after ingesting Listeria monocytogenes—a type of bacteria that lives in soil and water, and in some farm animals, like poultry and cattle. In addition to livestock, Listeria can also be present in raw milk and dairy products. The bacteria often reside in food-processing plants, and consequently, can contaminate various types of packaged food.

Listeria is unique among infectious organisms in that the bacteria can grow and thrive in very cold environments (for example, in a refrigerator or freezer). To eradicate Listeria bacteria, people should heat and cook food, and pasteurize dairy products.

People who contract listeriosis often experience a variety of symptoms, including: diarrhea, confusion, fever, stiff neck, weakness, and vomiting. These symptoms can vary in degree from mild to severe. Generally, the symptoms last for one to four days, with the average duration of illness lasting 42 hours.

Current Cases of Listeriosis

Recently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a recall of 117,350 pounds of meat tamales due to potential contamination from Listeria monocytogenes. According to Food Safety News, the products are manufactured by La Autentica Foods, LLC—a food distribution company based in Hialeah, Florida. Sources state that distribution of possibly contaminated tamale products was limited to retail and restaurant locations in Florida.

FDA sources indicate that frozen corn contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes was potentially used to make the tamales. To date, there are no confirmed illnesses directly related to people consuming the products. As a precaution, the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), along with company officials, are advising consumers who purchased the products not to consume them. Instead, people should throw the item away or return the product to the place they purchased it.

saladA few days prior to the tamale products recall, the Houston-based Company Pita Pal voluntarily recalled several types of vegetable salads and corn relish. The products included frozen corn ingredients made by CRF Frozen Foods Inc., a food-processing plant based in Pasco, Washington. According to the company’s website, the business focuses on the packaging and marketing various frozen fruits and vegetables.

CRF subsequently expanded the recall to include all foods its food facilities produce, which includes more than 350 different product types and 42 brands. Food Safety News reports that these products were marketed and sold in all 50 states and in parts of Canada. Retailers that sold the products include Safeway, Costco, Costco Canada, Trader Joe’s, and Walmart.

Approximately 100 different snack products from well-known brands such as Planters, Publix, Great Value (Walmart), Hy-Vee, and Roundy are undergoing national recall efforts due to potential Listeria infection of sunflower seeds. Of the 100 products, 98 are manufactured by TreeHouse Foods Inc., which is based in Oak Brook, Illinois.

The other two products are manufactured by SunOpta, Inc., a Canadian company with US headquarters in Edina, Minnesota. The products consist of sunflower seeds and roasted sunflower kernels.

Outbreak Origins

Health officials believe that the recent outbreaks stem from Listeria strains that were first reported in September of 2013. During this crisis, eight people were hospitalized for listeriosis. Listeria specimens collected between September 13, 2013, and March 28, 2016, confirmed the correlation.

State and local health departments interviewed three ill people or their caregivers. Of these people, two bought and ate frozen vegetables the month before they fell ill. Health officials evaluated epidemiologic and laboratory evidence that pinpointed the source as frozen vegetable products sold by CRF Frozen Foods.

On April 23, 2016, as a result of state and local investigations, CRF recalled 11 frozen vegetable products thought to be potentially contaminated with Listeria. Additional evidence resulted in the company expanding the recall to include all frozen vegetables and fruits produced by its Pasco, Washington, factory since May 1, 2014.

The recall initiated by CRF frozen foods includes all of the company’s consumer products sold under numerous brands. Affected items include numerous fruits and vegetables. The FDA has published the complete list of products on its website, along with additional information about its ongoing investigatory efforts.

A complete list of the recently recalled products can be found on the FDA’s Recalls, Market Withdrawals, and Safety Alerts webpage.