7 dead, 34 sick from Listeria: US apple industry works to limit recall damage

The Listeria outbreak that lead Bidart Bros. to recall of all of its granny smiths and galas spurred industry representatives to travel to Washington D.C. for damage control meetings recently, writes Coral Beach of The Packer.

apples-granny-smith-165384Alex Ott, executive director of the California Apple Commission, said he and officials from other apple organizations met with members of Congress the last week of January. They also met with people at the Food and Drug Administration, Commerce Department, U.S. Trade Representative office and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

One concern Ott said they discussed with FDA officials is how the agency shares — and does not share — information after a recall is announced.

“They are quick to send out initial information,” Ott said, “but they aren’t so quick with the follow ups.”

Ott said the FDA’s “no comment” policy during investigations fans the flames of media hysteria like that seen in Malaysia and other Asian countries, which have enacted restrictions on U.S. apples not included in the recall.

FDA spokesman Doug Karas said the agency has made it clear the recall related to the listeria outbreak involves only galas and granny smiths from Bidart Bros., Shafter, Calif. Seven people who were infected with the outbreak strains of listeria have died.

The outbreak has sickened 32 people in 11 states, with 31 of them requiring hospitalization, according to the most recent update from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Jan. 10. Canadian officials report two people there have been confirmed with the outbreak strains of Listeria monocytogenes.

Jim Bair, president and CEO of the U.S. Apple Association, Vienna, Va., said the organization is looking forward while waiting on final reports from FDA and CDC.

gala.apples“(We have) already begun looking forward to next steps and what our industry can do to prevent further instances,” Bair said. “We are considering what measures we can take to best serve the industry in providing relevant information to prevent future concerns.”

Officials with apple organizations in New York and Michigan either declined comment or did not respond to requests for comment.