4 dead, 33 ill from Listeria in lettuce: Of course Dole knew

Beginning August 2, 1998, over 80 Americans fell ill, 15 were killed, and at least six women miscarried due to listerosis. On Dec. 19, 1998, the outbreak strain was found in an open package of hot dogs partially consumed by a victim. The manufacturer of the hot dogs, Sara Lee subsidiary Bil Mar Foods, Inc., quickly issued a recall of what would become 35 million pounds of hot dogs and other packaged meats produced at the company’s only plant in Michigan. By Christmas, testing of unopened packages of hot dogs from Bil Mar detected the same genetically unique L. monocytegenes bacteria, and production at the plant was halted.

four.monkeysA decade later, the deaths of two Toronto nursing home residents in the summer of 2008 were attributed to listeriosis infections. These illnesses eventually prompted an August 17, 2008 advisory to consumers by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and Maple Leaf Foods, Inc. to avoid serving or consuming certain brands of deli meat as the products could be contaminated with L. monocytogenes. When genetic testing determined a match between contaminated meat products and listeriosis patients, all products manufactured at a Toronto Maple Leaf Foods plant were recalled and the facility closed. An investigation by the company determined that organic material trapped deep inside the plant’s meat slicing equipment harbored L. monocytogenes, despite routine sanitization that met specifications of the equipment manufacturer. In total, 57 cases of listeriosis as well as 22 deaths were definitively connected to the consumption of the plant’s contaminated deli meats.

As far back as 2013, Blue Bell ice cream was finding Listeria in places like floors, catwalks and cleaning tubs. Blue Bell had positive listeria findings from at least 11 swabs of plant surfaces between March 2013 and November 2014. Each time, it vigorously cleaned the area, and moved on without testing the equipment that touches the ice cream. At the same time, Blue Bell had problems with the layout of its plants, with condensation dripping all over the place. After federal officials linked an illness outbreak to Blue Bell in 2015, they tested the company’s food processing equipment and found LM. Three people died and 10 were sickened.

In all three Listeria outbreaks, the companies had data that showed an increase in Listeria-positive samples.

But rather than pay attention, they ignored the safety.

Those who study engineering failures –the BP oil well in the Gulf, the space shuttle Challenger, Bhopal – say the same thing: human behavior can mess things up.

listeria4In most cases, an attitude prevails that is, “things didn’t go bad yesterday, so the chances are, things won’t go bad today.”

And those in charge begin to ignore the safety systems.

Or hope the problem will just go away.

Kellogg’s was taking Salmonella-contaminated peanut paste based on paperwork in 2009? Pay attention, Nestle did.

In 2009, the operator of a yakiniku barbecue restaurant chain linked to four deaths and 70 illnesses from E. coli O111 in raw beef in Japan admitted it had not tested raw meat served at its outlets for bacteria, as required by the health ministry.

“We’d never had a positive result [from a bacteria test], not once. So we assumed our meat would always be bacteria-free.”

Chipotle Mexican Grill was aware of a norovirus outbreak among people who had eaten in one of its restaurants in Simi Valley, Calif., but did not tell public health officials there until after it had closed and cleaned the restaurant. More than 200 people were sickened.

So it’s no surprise that officials at Dole’s Springfield, Ohio plant, which bags lettuce and other supposedly healthy meals, knew about Listeria in its facility for 18 months before shutting down and issuing a recall.

Four people have died and 33 sickened in Canada and the U.S. from Listeria in the Dole products.

Kudos to Bill Marler and his Food Safety News, as well as Food Poisoning Bulletin, for filing the Freedom of Information request on U.S. Food and Drug Administration inspections at the Dole plant and putting together a preliminary picture of who knew what when.

Inspection reports (483) obtained by Food Safety News revealed the timeline of positive Listeria results and inaction. Dole Fresh Vegetables Inc. finally suspended production at its salad plant in Springfield, OH, on Jan. 21 this year after a random test by state officials showed a bagged salad contained Listeria monocytogenes.

Dole restarted production at the plant in Springfield, OH, on April 21. Company officials won’t say what was done to clean the plant or how they plan to prevent future contamination there.

powell_soli_AUG2Inspectors from FDA checked the production plant three times in January and twice in February after genetic fingerprinting showed the undeniable link between the sick people and salads from the facility. They collected swab samples, unfinished product samples, testing records and other documents and information.

According to the FDA’s inspection reports, in July 2014 Dole did swab tests of surfaces in the Springfield plant. The tests returned positive results for Listeria, but the facility kept producing salads, shipping them to dozens of states and at least five Canadian provinces.

At least five more times in 2014 and three times in late 2015 Dole’s internal tests showed Listeria contamination, but Dole kept the salad lines kept rolling until January this year.

The FDA inspection report states that Dole’s vice president for quality assurance and food safety, as well as the company’s quality assurance manager, were aware internal tests on Jan. 5 and 7 this year showed Listeria on equipment and other surfaces in the plant. But Dole continued to produce and ship salads.

The plant kept operating until Jan. 21. The following day Dole posted a recall notice with the FDA and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) for salads produced at the Springfield facility. Dole branded salads and house brands for Walmart, Kroger, Loblaws and Aldi were included in the recall.

Marler, a prominent food safety lawyer who represents one of the victims in a lawsuit against Dole told Stephanie Strom of the N.Y. Times, “If the government inspectors hadn’t showed up, who knows when or if they were going to tell anyone.”

“They’d been having positive tests for listeria for some time,” said William Goldfield, a spokesman for Dole. “We understand these recent news reports may raise questions among our consumers and customers. They should be assured, however, that we have worked in conjunction with the F.D.A. to address those observations and ensure that Dole products are safe.”

Lauren Sucher, a spokeswoman at the F.D.A., said that companies must notify the agency when they find a food has a “reasonable probability” of causing serious adverse health consequences.

But, Ms. Sucher said, not all strains of listeria cause disease. “When listeria is found in the manufacturing environment, rather than on the food itself, it is not uncommon for a company to immediately take corrective action rather than test further to see if the strain of listeria poses a threat,” she wrote in an email.

Food companies that find listeria during periodic testing are not required to run further tests to determine whether the pathogen is of a toxic variety.

In Dole’s case, it was swabbing various locations in its plant in Springfield, Ohio, not necessarily testing the finished products, according to the F.D.A. inspection. Rather, Canadian public health officials investigating an outbreak of listeriosis dating to summer 2015, tested bagged Dole salads and found four varieties that were contaminated.

Listeria in Italy: An on-going outbreak

In the first seven weeks of 2016, six cases of invasive listeriosis were recorded in Ancona province, Italy. Five strains of Listeria monocytogenes serotype 1/2a were isolated and typed by enterobacterial repetitive intergenic consensus (ERIC)-PCR and PFGE, indicating clonality. In addition, seven serotype 1/2a L. monocytogenes strains from cases of invasive listeriosis recorded in the same area in 2015 were also typed and showed relatedness. Here we provide details of the ongoing outbreak.

listeria4From 4 January to 15 February 2016, six L. monocytogenes strains (3 from blood, 3 from cerebrospinal fluid (CSF)) were isolated from six patients diagnosed with invasive listeriosis at the Clinical Microbiology Laboratory of Ancona Regional Hospital (eastern Italy) of Area Vasta 2 (AV2) which encompasses Ancona, Fabriano, Senigallia, and Jesi.

Patients had been admitted to four different departments: emergency room (ER) (n=2), oncology (n=2), infectious diseases (n=1), and intensive care unit (ICU) (n=1). Four of the six patients were women and the most common risk factors/underlying conditions were: age (n=5; >71 years), cancer (n=2), and diabetes (n=1). Clinical manifestations included septicaemia (n=3), meningitis (n=2) and meningoencephalitis (n=1).

In addition to the cases detected in 2016, eight L. monocytogenes strains (5 from blood and 3 from CSF) had been isolated in AV2 (from 7 cases) and nearby Ascoli Piceno (from 1 case) in 2015 (Figure 1); clinical samples came from six hospital departments: ER (n=1), general medicine (n=3), nephrology (n=1), vascular surgery (n=1), infectious diseases (n=1), and ICU (n=1). Five patients were men and the mean patient age was 73.6 years (range: 55–84; median: 75); a 77 year-old man died.

The 2015 and 2016 isolates were identified as L. monocytogenes by Gram staining and the Vitek MS system (bioMérieux Italia SpA, Firenze, Italy). Susceptibility to ampicillin, meropenem, erythromycin, and sulphamethoxazole-trimethoprim was tested by the E-Test (Liofilchem, Teramo, Italy) according to the European Committee on Antimicrobial Susceptibility Testing (EUCAST) guidelines [1]. All strains were susceptible to all the antibiotics tested.

The incidence of listeriosis has been rising since the early 2000s in several European countries, mainly in immunocompromised patients older than 65 years [7-9]. In particular, a statistically significant increase was reported in Austria, Denmark, Hungary, Italy, France, Spain, and Sweden from 2005 to 2009 [10]. In the past 30 years, outbreaks of listeriosis have been mostly linked to serotype 1/2a and 4b clones [8]. A shift to serotype 1/2a has been observed in Europe and North America in the last decade [8]. In Italy, surveillance of invasive listeriosis has found an increase in serotype 1/2a isolates over the same period, mainly in the central and northern regions (about 80% of cases) [10-14].

Listeriosis is an infection of great concern to public health due its clinical severity and high case fatality rate, despite its low incidence compared with other foodborne diseases such as salmonellosis or campylobacteriosis. The present data suggest an ongoing outbreak of listeriosis due to serotype 1/2a L. monocytogenes in AV2 that most probably started in 2015, since the strain was already present in the area in 2015. As in other European countries, most cases were associated with an underlying condition and involved elderly people [8,9].

Local authorities are working with the Italian national public health institute (the Istituto Superiore di Sanità, Rome) and the regional Istituto Zooprofilattico Umbria and Marche to identify the sources of food contamination. A recent press release [15] points out that there are findings which suggest contamination of a pork product as a possible vehicle of infection for at least one human case. At present, however, no clear link can be established between the contaminated pork product and the infections. Investigation into the source of infection in AV2 is still in progress.


Ongoing outbreak of invasive listeriosis due to serotype 1/2a Listeria monocytogenes, Ancona Province, Italy, January 2015 To February 2016

28 April 2016

Eurosurveillance, Volume 21, Issue 17

E Marini, G Magi, C Vincenzi, E Manso, B Facinelli


Damn that Listeria is tricky

Listeria monocytogenes is an important foodborne pathogen commonly isolated from food processing environments and food products.

listeria4This organism can multiply at refrigeration temperatures, form biofilms on different materials and under various conditions, resist a range of environmental stresses, and contaminate food products by cross-contamination. L. monocytogenes is recognized as the causative agent of listeriosis, a serious disease that affects mainly individuals from high-risk groups, such as pregnant women, newborns, the elderly, and immunocompromised individuals.

Listeriosis can be considered a disease that has emerged along with changing eating habits and large-scale industrial food processing. This disease causes losses of billions of dollars every year with recalls of contaminated foods and patient medical treatment expenses. In addition to the immune status of the host and the infecting dose, the virulence potential of each strain is crucial for the development of disease symptoms. While many isolates are naturally virulent, other isolates are avirulent and unable to cause disease; this may vary according to the presence of molecular determinants associated with virulence.

In the last decade, the characterization of genetic profiles through the use of molecular methods has helped track and demonstrate the genetic diversity among L. monocytogenes isolates obtained from various sources. The purposes of this review were to summarize the main methods used for isolation, identification, and typing of L. monocytogenes and also describe its most relevant virulence characteristics.

The continuous challenge of characterizing the foodborne pathogen Listeria monocytogenes

Foodborne Pathogens and Disease. April 2016, ahead of print. doi:10.1089/fpd.2015.2115.

Camargo Anderson Carlos, Woodward Joshua John, and Nero Luís Augusto


Artisan? UK cheesemaker banned from ever making cheese again after health inspectors found deadly salmonella, E. coli and listeria in her mozzarella

An artisan cheesemaker has been banned from ever making cheese again after salmonella, E.coli and listeria was found in her mozzarella.

frances.woodHealth inspectors discovered Frances Wood’s dairy in West Cranmore, Somerset, in a filthy state with ‘high-risk’ moldy cheese laid on dirty racks with taps rusting away.

A judge branded the 70-year-old’s cheese-making operation ‘shoddy’ and ‘amateurish’ after hearing that her products contained salmonella, E.coli and the listeria bug – which kills one-third of people infected.

Wood would often travel to London’s Camden Market to sell her artisan mozzarella which she also sold to local pizza restaurants.

She ran Alham Wood Cheeses at Higher Alham Farm, where she kept buffalo and made mozzarella cheese from their milk.

The buffalo have been on the farm since 1997, with a 200-strong herd kept there.

Mendip District Council inspected her dairy several times and saw no change in the disgusting conditions.

And when they viewed her stall at Camden Market, they found the same unhygienic products.

The local authority said they tried to work with Wood to improve her cheese-making, but took legal action when it became clear she had not made any improvements to hygiene conditions at her dairy.

She was served with formal notices at the end of November 2014 and was then prosecuted for two offences under food safety and hygiene regulations.

Alham_Farm_cheeses_2Wood pleaded guilty to the charges and was fined a total of £787 and made to pay £6,000 in prosecution costs.

But a district judge also took the rare step of imposing a Hygiene Prohibition Notice, which bans Wood from ‘participating in the management of any cheese production or processing business in the future’.

He called Wood’s business ‘a shoddy operation’ which was ‘rather amateurish’.

Canadian study finds soy can be used as an antibacterial agent

A new study from the University of Guelph has found soy can limit the growth of some bacteria, such as listeria and pseudomonas, and it does it better than chemical-based agents.

Soybeans-legumes“Current synthetic-based, chemical-based anti-microbial agents kill bacteria indiscriminately, whether they are pathogenic or beneficial,” researcher Suresh Neethirajan said.

The body – and in particular, the intestines – need good bacteria to properly process the food we eat.

The compounds in soybeans, however, do not kill off all bacteria, just the bad ones, Neethirajan said.

Soybean derivatives are already used in a variety of products including canned foods, cooking oils, meat alternatives, cheeses, ice cream and baked goods.

Neethirajan, an engineering professor and director of the BioNano Laboratory at the university, said those with soy allergies need not worry about soy being used to prevent bacteria growth.

He said their method isolates the active component of the soybean from the protein that causes allergic reactions. The soy isoflavones that are chemically similar to estrogen are also weeded out.

What is left is a compound that naturally stops the bad bacteria.

Neethirajan’s study will appear in the July edition of the journal Biochemistry and Biophysics Reports.

New Zealand recalls spinach for Listeria positive

Southern Fresh Foods Ltd is recalling Delmark Baby Spinach 150gm, 500gm and 3kg packs after discovering that the product has tested positive for Listeria.

spinach.nz.apr.16Product identification

Product type: Ready to eat fresh salad

Name of product (size): Southern Fresh Foods brand Delmark Baby Spinach (150gm), Southern Fresh Foods brand Delmark Baby Spinach (500gm), Southern Fresh Foods brand Delmark Baby Spinach (3kg)

Batch numbers: 09703010

Date marking: Best Before dated 16th April 2016

Package size and description: Sold in 150gm and 500gm plastic packs and 3kg cartons.

Distribution: The product is sold in bulk to foodservice and some retail customers nationwide.

Customers are asked to check the batch number and date marking. Affected products should not be consumed. There have been no reports of illness, however if you have consumed any of these products and have any concerns about your health please seek medical advice.

Fresh From Texas recalls apple product because of Listeria

Fresh from Texas of San Antonio, Texas is voluntarily recalling multiple products containing sliced red apples which are identified below because they have the potential to be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes,

No illnesses have been reported to date.

The product was sold by H-E-B stores in Texas.

The recall was the result of internal company testing which indicated the presence of Listeria Monocytogenes in two random samples of the same product. The company has ceased the production and distribution of the product as FDA and the company continue their investigation as to what caused the problem.

Blue Bell says Listeria likely spread in Oklahoma plant drainage

Blue Bell Creameries told federal inspectors that it believes Listeria spread at its Oklahoma plant through a drainage system, but the company said it couldn’t identify a single source of Listeria that contaminated equipment at its flagship facility in the Central Texas town of Brenham.

blue.bellThe Texas-based ice cream company revealed the findings in documents sent to the Food and Drug Administration, KXAS-TV in Dallas-Fort Worth reported Friday.

In its filing to the FDA, Blue Bell said cleaned equipment that came into contact with products made at its Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, plant was being stored in a small room with a floor drain. The company said an investigation revealed that particles at the plant may have carried listeria and washed into the building’s drainage system, gone through the room’s drain and settled on the clean equipment.

“We believe that this mechanism — particles emitted from a drain — was the most likely source of listeria,” Blue Bell wrote in the February filing.

The company said it no longer uses the room for equipment storage, and that the drain was removed and the floor replaced.

listeria4Blue Bell also told the FDA that it believes listeria likely entered its Brenham plant from “various potential sources” and settled on some pieces of equipment, but that investigators “could not identify a single common source of listeria in the facility.”

The company said it focused on cleaning affected pieces of equipment or removing it altogether, cleaning and sanitizing the plant and enhancing sanitation procedures and testing programs.

“We identified and implemented specific corrective actions to address the likely source, and adopted comprehensive facility-wide programs to enhance our overall ability to confront any possible sources of contamination,” Blue Bell spokesman Joe Robertson said Sunday.

Going public (not so much): Dole inspections show recalls, but no contamination in Ohio facility

If Dole can’t answer basic questions about the safety of its packaged leafy greens, why should consumers buy the stuff, let alone feel confident?

160122-dole-salad-mn-1530_8b681a6748a4253c3ec1c087b4cd8b0d.nbcnews-fp-1200-800Dole salad products had been recalled in recent years due to concerns about salmonella and listeria before the recent outbreak that shuttered the Springfield facility in January, federal inspection documents show.

The Springfield News-Sun reviewed U.S. Food and Drug Administration records dating back to 2011 obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Those documents show the Springfield plant recalled products a handful of times after traces of listeria and salmonella were found in pre-packaged salad mixes produced there. However samples collected during subsequent inspections didn’t find evidence of contamination at the plant.

A recent lawsuit filed by a Warren County woman also cited at least eight prior outbreaks or recalls company-wide stretching back to 2006.

Dole voluntarily closed the Springfield site in January. It’s not clear whether the site has reopened, in part because company leaders have declined to comment multiple times, but the parking lots is often full of cars.

Products packaged at the facility in the current outbreak were linked to at least 19 hospitalizations in the U.S. in nine states, including one death in Michigan.

In Canada, the outbreak was linked to 14 illnesses in five provinces. Three people in Canada died, however it hasn’t been determined if listeria contributed to those deaths.

listeria4A food safety expert said it’s not uncommon for a food processing facility to remain shuttered for weeks or even months after a significant outbreak.

“This is pretty normal and falls within the expected range of remediation efforts on the part of the organization,” said Naila Khalil, an associate professor in the Center of Global Health at Wright State University.

The Springfield News-Sun reviewed dozens of pages of FDA inspection reports obtained through a public records request.

Those documents show FDA inspectors visited a handful of times since 2011 after samples collected by various agencies contained pathogens like listeria, E. coli and salmonella.

The records also show subsequent samples collected at the Springfield facility didn’t test positive for those pathogens.

The FDA inspected the Springfield site in March 2014 after Canadian public health authorities detected a sample of listeria in a pre-packaged salad blend processed here. Dole voluntarily recalled the product.

In that case, the FDA issued a report to the company for failure to maintain floors and walls in good repair and failure to provide adequate screening or other protection against pests. Additional observations included food residue found on multiple surfaces, water leaks and ice melt dripping onto the floor of the finished product warehouse from a container of iced broccoli.

Specific concerns listed in the report include a cutting board found with deep grooves that couldn’t easily be cleaned, ruts in the floor containing standing water and peeling paint and rust.

Company officials were cooperative and pledged to address those concerns, the report says.

The documents also provide a glimpse into Dole’s sampling and prevention procedures.

The firm collects environmental, water, raw material and finished product sampling, the FDA documents show. The 2014 inspection showed the company’s goal is 50 samples per week, chosen from a list of pre-designated locations on a rotating basis.

In cases in which a pathogen is detected, the area is cleaned and sanitized, followed by additional swabs in a pattern around where the original sample was taken and repeated until no additional traces are found.

Why wouldn’t Dole just make such data public and quell whispers of conspiracy?


Listeria positive leads to frozen broccoli recall

Alimentos Congelados, S.A. (Pinula) is voluntarily recalling 1,800 cases of Frozen Broccoli Cuts because it has the potential to be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

list.broccoliThe Frozen Broccoli Cuts were distributed to stores in the following states: Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Florida, Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina and North Carolina.

The affected Frozen Broccoli Cuts were distributed in poly bags under the following label and code: WYLWOOD Fresh Frozen Broccoli Cuts, NET WT. 16 OZ (1 LB), UPC 5193300110, with bag code: A25335P and A15335P

The company has not received any complaints in relation to this product and is not aware of any illnesses associated with the product to date.

The recall was the result of retail package of Frozen Broccoli Cuts being tested by the State of Ohio Department of Agriculture. The Frozen Broccoli Cuts had tested positive for Listeria monocytogenes. The company has ceased distribution of Frozen Broccoli Cuts, and is fully cooperating with regulatory agencies.