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CDC closes investigation; warns of ongoing Listeria threat

The investigation into a Listeriosis outbreak traced to frozen vegetables from CRF Frozen Foods Inc. has ended — but federal officials warn more people could still be stricken by the potentially deadly Listeria monocytogenes pathogen.

logo-CRF-Frozen-Foods“People could continue to get sick because recalled products may still be freezers and people who don’t know about the recalls could eat them,” according to an outbreak update posted this afternoon by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta.

“Retailers should not sell and consumers should not eat recalled products.”

Those “recalled products” include more than 350 frozen products packaged by CRF Frozen Foods Inc. under 42 brands, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).  Recalled products were sold across the U.S. and Canada.

“The FDA facilitated the recall of at least 456 products related to this outbreak. CRF Frozen Foods recalled 358 products and at least 98 other products were recalled by other firms that received CRF-recalled products,” according to FDA.

A complete list of the recalls linked to CRF Frozen Foods’ recall is available on the FDA website.

Production plant remains closed
CRF owners closed the Pasco, WA, plant where the food was produced after issuing recalls on April 23 and May 2. The first recall was for 11 frozen vegetable products. The second was for all organic and traditional frozen vegetable and fruit products processed at the facility from May 1, 2014, through this spring.

Today an external public relations consultant hired by CRF said the company’s owners will take their time reopening the facility. He said CRF’s business is seasonal, based on crop harvests, and with the end of summer nearing it wouldn’t make any difference if they reopened in a few weeks or a few months.

A variety of Kroger-branded frozen vegetable products are included in the recall.

A variety of Kroger-branded frozen vegetable products are included in the recall.

“The company executives are spending a good bit of time and effort focused on a new design of the plant, to ensure the company has state of the art equipment and processes, once operations resume,” said spokesman Gene Grabowski.

Officials with the privately held CRF, which is part of the R.D. Offutt Co., were pleased that the outbreak investigation was declared ended, Grabowski said this afternoon, adding that they would “continue to proceed with redoubled vigilance to ensure that nothing of this nature happens again.”

Although CRF knows how much product it shipped, its officials did not reveal those volumes in its recall notices.

“The company has no estimate of product recalled or destroyed,” Grabovski said. “Much of the recalled product has been managed by retailers, so no complete records are available.”

The victims and how they were discovered
The outbreak includes at least nine people from four states on opposite sides of the U.S. They were sickened with a strain of Listeria monocytogenes that Ohio officials coincidentally discovered in CRF frozen products while conducting routine testing of randomly collected packages of frozen foods from retail stores.

All nine people were so sick they had to be hospitalized. Three of them died, but state public health officials reported to the CDC that only one of the deaths was specifically caused by the Listeria infection.

The first known victim became sick in September of 2013. Five victims fell ill in 2015 and three were confirmed with the outbreak strain this year. The most recent case was May 3, according to the CDC.

recalled-Organic-by-Nature-frozen-peasCDC scientists detected the outbreak in March this year and linked it to frozen food from CRF’s Pasco plant using a combination of high-tech DNA testing and the oldest medical technique on the books — patient interviews.

“State and local health departments attempted to interview the ill people, a family member, or a caregiver for the ill person about the foods the ill person may have eaten in the month before the illness began,” CDC reported.

Officials were able to interview four people, three of whom reported that before they became sick they ate frozen vegetables that turned out to have been produced at the CRF Pasco plant.

“Two reported Organic by Nature brand frozen vegetables. The third ill person reported eating O Organic brand frozen vegetables,” CDC reported.

While the CDC investigators were trying to find a common denominator among the Listeria victims, staff with the Ohio Department of Agriculture were conducting routine, random product sampling of frozen vegetables from grocery stores.

The Ohio tests revealed Listeria monocytogenes in frozen organic white sweet corn and frozen organic green peas packaged under Meijer’s True Goodness brand. Both products were produced by CRF at the Pasco facility.

“Whole genome sequencing showed that the Listeria isolate from the frozen corn was closely related genetically to eight bacterial isolates from (the) ill people, and the Listeria isolate from the frozen peas was closely related genetically to one isolate from (one) ill person,” the CDC reported.

Public health investigators used the PulseNet system to compare and ultimately match the Listeria monocytogenes samples from the outbreak victims and the randomly tested frozen vegetables. PulseNet is a national sub typing network of public health labs and includes a national database of DNA fingerprints of foodborne pathogen strains.

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Ongoing Multistate Salmonella Outbreak Linked to Sprouts

At least 63 people  in 10 states have been sickened in a multistate Salmonella outbreak linked to bean sprouts, reported the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Friday.

Bean sprouts distributed by Wonton Foods, Inc. of Brooklyn, NY have been linked to an outbreak of Salmonella Enteriitdis that has sickened people in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Montana, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Vermont. An estimated 26 percent of victims have been hospitalized, according to CDC’s outbreak report.

The company said in a verbal statement that it was recalling the bean sprouts thought to be tied to the outbreak, according to the CDC outbreak report. The one illness in a person from Montana was likely contracted during a visit to the East Coast.

The first illnesses began September 30, 2014 and the latest reported illness onset to date was November 8, 2014, said CDC. Among 42 persons with available information, 11 (26%) have been hospitalized, and no deaths have been reported.

Of the 37 people interviewed by health officials, 29, or 78 percent, reported eating bean sprouts in the week before they fell ill.

Among those interviewed, “Wonton Foods, Inc. was the only supplier common to all of the restaurants and was the sole supplier of bean sprouts to at least two of the restaurants,” reported CDC.

The firm said its last bean sprout shipment was Nov. 18. On Nov. 21 after being notified of the outbreak, the firm stopped production and sale of its bean sprouts and is taking steps to prevent further Salmonella contamination.


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Food Company Executive Detained in Taiwan’s Ongoing ‘Gutter Oil’ Scandal

The chairman of a Taiwan-based company suspected of buying recycled waste oil and mixing it with lard oil for sale to unsuspecting customers was reportedly detained Saturday on suspicion of fraud. Officials said Yeh Wen-hsiang was a flight risk, plus they said they were concerned he might destroy evidence or collude with other suspects.

Chang Guann Co. allegedly purchased 243 tons of tainted oil from an unlicensed factory and mixed it with other oil and sold it to customers across Taiwan. The company has been fined $ 1.67 million for selling poor-quality lard oil not meant for human consumption.

At a press conference Sept. 11, Yeh Wen-hsiang got down on his knees and apologized to the public and also drank a cup of his company’s oil in order to show that it was safe. Taiwan’s prime minister, Jiang Yi-huah, has also apologized to the public and promised that oversight of food safety would be enhanced.

Taiwanese health officials were said to be testing the gutter oil for heavy metals and warned that heating it to high temperatures might produce carcinogens.

Tons of popular products, including seasonal mooncakes, pineapple cakes, breads, instant noodles, steamed buns and dumplings have been recalled since the “gutter oil” scandal recently came to light. The sale of Taiwanese products was also halted in nearby Hong Kong because of the problem.

However, Taiwanese health officials indicated that Globalway, a Hong Kong-based trading company, may have supplied the lard oil, which is made from pork fat but is meant to be used for animal feed or industrial applications. Island officials have since banned importation of the lard oil from Hong Kong and promised to start inspecting all cooking oil.

Additional products such as snacks and cookies were being pulled from store shelves across Taiwan on Friday on the order of health authorities, and a Japanese-owned fast-food chain doing business there announced Saturday that it was suspending the sale of five different hamburger products because of the tainted oil problem.

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Raw Milk is Ongoing Hazard, CDC Warns Public Health Workers

Last week, the U.S. Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention sent a letter to state and territorial public health officials with information and resources on the risks of consuming raw milk and other unpasteurized dairy products.

Raw milk is a recognized source of severe infections from pathogens such as E. coli O157, Campylobacter and Salmonella, but pasteurization prevents infections.

“Adherence to good hygienic practices during milking can reduce, but not eliminate, the risk of milk contamination,” states the May 9 letter signed by Dr. Robert Tauxe, deputy director of CDC’s Division of Foodborne, Waterborne, and Environmental Diseases. “Pasteurization is the only way to ensure that fluid milk products do not contain harmful bacteria.”

It’s not just CDC and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommending that all animal milk be pasteurized. The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Family Practitioners, the American Veterinary Medical Association and the National Association of Public Health Veterinarians agree.

Pasteurization of milk became routine in the U.S. starting in the 1920s and was widespread by 1950. Transporting raw milk across state lines to sell directly to consumers is prohibited today, but it is available within many states.

“CDC data shows that the rate of raw milk-associated outbreaks is 2.2 times higher in states in which the sale of raw milk is legal compared with states where sale of raw milk is illegal,” reads Tauxe’s letter.

According to the CDC National Outbreak Reporting System, between 2007 and 2012, there were 81 outbreaks of infections due to consumption of raw milk, resulting in 979 illnesses. In addition, 59 percent of the outbreaks involved at least one person under the age of five.

Most infections were caused by Campylobacter, Shiga toxin-producing E. coli, or Salmonella bacteria, which come from cattle that appear healthy. Severe, long-term consequences of these infections include hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), which can result in kidney failure, and Guillan-Barré syndrome, which can result in paralysis.

“To protect the health of the public, state regulators should continue to support pasteurization and consider further restricting or prohibiting the sale and distribution of raw milk and other unpasteurized dairy products in their states,” Tauxe wrote.

Click here to read the full letter and see the list of resources for consumers,  public health officials and health care providers.

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