All food can be contaminated: Huge recall of frozen fruits and vegetables after Listeria outbreak

The N.Y. Times has noticed the growing number of recalls linked to Listeria-positive frozen produce packed by CRF Frozen Foods in Pasco, Wash., but offers little perspective on why.

beaker.the.screamZero-tolerance is not discussed. Neither is the test-and-hold approach used by many frozen-produce packagers. And of particular note: During our tour of Ontario processing vegetable growers and processors 15 years ago, Chapman and I were told that almost all processing vegetables are blanched – not so much for food safety but for quality – except onions.

Back to the onions at the end.

Brittany Behm, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told the Times the scale of the recall reflects the severity of the outbreak of the illness, Listeria, and of concerns about how the contaminated food might have “trickled down” into other products.

The processing plant, has voluntarily recalled more than 350 frozen foods — including carrots, onions, peaches and strawberries — that were sold in all 50 states and Canada and Mexico, and the EU. The recall began on April 23, with 11 frozen vegetables, but was significantly expanded on May 2.

Eight people sickened with the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes have been confirmed since 2013 — six in California and one each in Maryland and Washington, Ms. Behm said. All of the cases, involving patients 56 to 86 years old, resulted in hospitalizations.

The two people from Maryland and Washington died, but the authorities did not directly attribute their deaths to Listeria because they may have already had weakened immune systems or other illnesses, Ms. Behm said.

It was not clear how many packages were affected by the recall. A spokesman for the company, Gene Grabowski, did not respond to a phone call on Friday. He told The Associated Press that the CRF plant closed two weeks ago and that the company was trying to pinpoint the source of the contamination.

22xp-foodrecall_web2-master315“Unquestionably, this is a lot of product. … It reflects the severity of listeria as an illness, the long duration of illnesses and the outbreak and the long shelf life of the products,” said Matthew Wise, who leads the outbreak response team at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

On May 14, 2016, Food Safety News reported that staff from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration inspected the CRF Frozen Foods LLC plant in Pasco, WA, from March 14-17.

The company stopped production at the plant April 25 after being notified by federal officials that frozen vegetables produced there had been linked by genetic testing to several people who had infections from Listeria monocytogenes.

The two-page FDA inspection report includes boilerplate citations of applicable sections of the federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act on its second page. The first page includes hand-written observations documenting:

a damaged plastic shovel used for food contact tasks;

chipping, cracking and missing pieces of plastic on food contact portions of equipment on the onion production line;

a plastic conveyor belt with missing plastic pieces on at least five legs that are in direct contact with onions;

utility knives used for trimming bad spots off onions that had initials etched on their blades; and

blue tape being used as a temporary repair on a cracked metal plate above a consumer pack line that was repacking product for export at the time of the inspection.

All of the examples cited by inspectors are cause of concern for the same reason — they mean it’s impossible to adequately clean the equipment that is in direct contact with food being produced.

“The materials and workmanship of equipment and utensils does not allow proper cleaning and maintenance,” according to the report.

“Investigations are ongoing to determine if food sources used to manufacture CRF Frozen Foods products could explain some of the illnesses,” FDA reported in its most recent update May 4.

One of those “food sources” could be onions from Oregon Potato Co., also located in Pasco, WA.

“March 2016 environmental samples collected by FDA from Oregon Potato Company, located in Pasco, WA, were found to be closely related genetically to seven of the isolates of ill people associated with this outbreak,” the FDA reported.

“Based on this information, Oregon Potato Company voluntarily recalled wholesale onion products, which led to subsequent downstream customer recalls, one of which publicly disclosed Oregon Potato Company as its product source.”


Taylor Farms produce mixture fingered in Costco chicken salad/E. coli O157 outbreak

A retailer or food service operator is only as good as the ingredients they use. Even with the best internal food safety programs, a good food safety culture includes supplier standards and verifications. Audits and inspections are never enough.

According to the Associated Press, Costco believes that contamination of their rotisserie chicken salad is linked to produce.costco.chicken.salad_.nov_.15

Costco officials say testing has pointed toward a vegetable mix from a California food wholesaler as the source of E. coli in the company’s chicken salad that has been linked to an outbreak that has sickened 19 people in seven states.

Craig Wilson, Costco vice president of food safety and quality assurance, said Wednesday he was told by the Food and Drug Administration that the strain of E. coli seems to be connected to an onion and celery mix.

Wilson says the company uses one supplier for those vegetables in the chicken salad sold in all its U.S. stores.

He says one additional test is needed to confirm that the vegetables carried the same E. coli strain connected with the outbreak.

Wilson identified the supplier as Taylor Farms in Salinas, California.

Water, conduit of bacteria to produce: Onion growers can live with FDA rule

Idaho and Oregon onion growers say they can live with the water quality provisions included in the FDA’s final produce safety rule, which was released Nov. 13.

onion.water.oregonTwo years ago, they were worried the proposed water quality provisions in FDA’s originally proposed produced rule could put them out of business. But industry officials said the FDA heard their concerns and re-wrote the rule in a way that onion growers are OK with.

To go from a rule that would have seriously impacted the economics of the onion industry “to a rule that’s livable for us and allows us to stay in business is a huge victory,” said Kay Riley, chairman of the Idaho-Eastern Oregon Onion Committee.

When FDA first proposed its produce safety rule in 2013, it included water quality standards limiting how much generic E. coli bacteria could be present in agricultural water.

If the water didn’t meet those standards, farmers had to immediately stop using it. Virtually none of the surface water used by onion growers in Eastern Oregon and Southwestern Idaho meets those standards.

The water quality standards still exist in the final rule.

But FDA altered them to allow growers to meet the standards, even if their water exceeds the minimum bacteria levels, if they can show through scientific evidence that bacteria dies off at a certain rate from the last day of irrigation until harvest.

The bulb onions grown in this region are left in the field to dry for a few weeks following harvest. Field trials by Oregon State University researchers have shown these onions will meet the so-called die-off provisions.

“The thing that’s great about it is they actually listened to us,” Riley said. “I would deem it a tremendous victory compared to what it could have been.”

But the final rule still requires farmers to test their water annually, even if they meet the die-off provisions. Onion growers say the testing will be costly and time-consuming and they hope to be able to skip them.

“They are still going to require testing and that’s going to be the hardest thing to deal with,” said Stuart Reitz, an OSU cropping systems extension agent in Ontario. “The final rule is not ideal but it’s not that bad. It’s one onion growers can live with.”

Soil may protect onions from E. coli

Early research indicates one of the best protections for onions against irrigation water-borne bacteria, such as E. coli, may be the soil itself.

onionThat research is being conducted at the Malheur Experiment Station by Joy Waite-Cusic, assistant professor of Food Safety Systems at Oregon State University.

Onions in the research plot have been irrigated with water inoculated with E. coli, some to extreme highs, Waite-Cusic said. The E. coli was applied during the last irrigation. In the sample of onions taken from the plots, the majority of them did not test positive for the bacteria, Waite-Cusic said.

In one of the latest samplings, onions were harvested one afternoon, put in bags and tested the next morning. Only 16 out of 150 onions tested positive for E. coli, Waite-Cusic said, and this from rows where the irrigation water had been artificially inoculated with 100,000 colony-forming units of generic E. coli for 100 milliliters of water.

“The soil does a good job of filtering,” experiment station superintendent Clint Shock said.

Testing showed that there was less E. coli as the water moved from the furrow or drop tape through the soil to the onion bulb.

Diced red onions recalled for listeria

Seasonal eating is easy and a privilege in the sub-tropical climate of Brisbane – it ain’t Canada.

Those sweet purple (red) onions, delicious roasted on their own or in many dishes, were $0.19/kg a couple of weeks ago (something shy of $0.09/pound).

I’m still feeling good about that deal. And an excellent addition to tonight’s duck stew.

So I’m not sure why people get other people to chop up their onions but they do, even in Canada, where onions are a winter staple.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is warning the public not to consume the Gills Onions brand Fresh Diced Red Onions described below because the product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

The affected product, Gills Onions brand Fresh Diced Red Onions, Product of U.S.A., is sold in 198 g packages, bearing UPC 6 43550 00045 0, Best Before date 05/17/12, and lot code 51RDA1A2119.

This product is known to be distributed in Ontario and may have been distributed nationally.

There have been no reported illnesses associated with the consumption of this product.

Lawsuit continues for 235 sickened with E. coli O157:H7 at Harvey’s in Ontario in 2008

In the fall of 2008, 235 people got sick dining at a Harvey’s fast-food restaurant at a major thoroughfare in North Bay, Ontario, about four hours north of Toronto (that’s in Canada).

A report by the North Bay and District Health Unit concluded the outbreak was probably caused by raw Spanish onions and poor cleaning of onion slicing machines.

Today, the North Bay Nugget reported that depositions are scheduled to continue this month in a class-action suit against the restaurant, according to the law firm handling the claim.

The statement of claim alleges Cara Operations Ltd., 1233280 Ontario Inc. and Summit Food Distributors were negligent because they provided food or beverages contaminated with E. coli, says the website for law firm Sutts, Strosberg LLP.

It says depositions started in November with a representative from each party asked questions about documents that had been produced and issues in the lawsuit.

These examinations were adjourned when it was learned the franchise owner also filed a separate lawsuit against Cara and others claiming the outbreak at the restaurant "ruined their business and caused the business to be sold at a loss."

The claim was filed on behalf of all people who ate the restaurant from Sept. 12, 2008 to Oct. 12, 2008 and all people who were infected due to secondary contact with them.

Ontario E. coli outbreak likely caused by Spanish onions: 235 sickened

In a refreshing change for Canadian public health, a report has actually been issued regarding an outbreak of foodborne illness – specifically the 235 people who got sick dining at a Harvery’s restaurant at a major thoroughfare in North Bay, Ontario, last fall, four hours north of Toronto.

Apparently it was the Spanish onions.

The North Bay and District Health Unit also criticized the inconsistent cleaning practice of the onion dicer (below, left, exactly as shown).

The full report is available at

Some questions: where did the onions come from? Health types say they don’t know. How could a Harvey’s not know where its onions were coming from? Or at least provide a list of options? There were also outbreaks of E. coli O157:H7 in southern Ontario at the same time. Same onions?