Produce Recalls In The News: Fresh Cases Of Food Poisoning
Though many experts say that the nation’s system of growing and distributing produce remains safe, the latest E. coli outbreak was the 20th such epidemic tied to lettuce or spinach since 1995.
Tomatoes served in restaurants were linked to another high-profile food poisoning outbreak that ultimately caused 183 people in 21 states to become sick with salmonella. It was the 10th case of salmonella poisoning in tomatoes since 1990.
“Outbreaks of food poisoning linked to fresh produce are on the rise,” says Robert Brackett, director of the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.
The rise of these episodes involving produce, health officials say, is fueled by health-conscious Americans’ desire to eat more fresh vegetables.
Also on the rise seem to be the number of recalls issued over food safety concerns. Since mid-August, there have been seven such recalls related to produce alone. They are:
- Nov. 1 — Boston Salad Co., Boston, recalls cole slaw sold in New England and the Mid-Atlantic over possible listeria contamination.
- Nov. 1 — Krisp-Pak Co., Norfolk, VA, recalls all lots of packaged fresh cut fruit sold through foodservice
and retail locations in Virginia and North Carolina due to possible listeria contamination.
- Oct. 8 — Nunes Co., Salinas, CA, recalls 8,500 cartons of Foxy Brand green leaf lettuce feared to be contaminated with
E. coli found in irrigation water. Tests later cleared the lettuce of contamination.
- Sept. 29 — William Bolthouse Farms of Bakersfield, CA, recalls bottles of its 100% Carrot Juice, which, if left unrefrigerated, could develop botulism.
- Sept. 15 — Natural Selection Foods of San Juan Bautista, CA, issues a nationwide recall of all 31 brands of its fresh spinach and salads with spinach as an ingredient after its product was found to be the source of the E. coli contamination. Five other companies that received product from Natural Selection Foods instituted recalls of their own.They were: Kenter Canyon Farms, Sun Valley, CA (Sept. 15); River Ranch, Salinas, CA (Sept. 17); RLB Food Distributors, West Caldwell, NJ (Sept. 19); Pacific Coast Fruit Co., Portland, OR (Sept. 22); and Triple B Corp., Seattle (Sept. 22).
- Sept. 7 — Monterey Mushrooms of Watsonville, CA, recalls 10,000 cases of fresh sliced white mushrooms and fresh sliced baby bella mushrooms that may be contaminated with listeria. The mushrooms were distributed to retailers in Maryland, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia.
- Aug. 18 — Fullei Fresh of Miami recalls 5-ounce containers and 5-pound bulk cartons of alfalfa sprouts because they may be contaminated with salmonella. The recalled alfalfa sprouts were distributed throughout Florida.
In addition to those, there have been a number of other widely publicized recalls tied to other food items, including ground beef, pork, turkey sandwiches and milk, that were found to be tainted with illness-causing bacteria.
In response to these outbreaks, consumers, government regulators, politicians, retailers and industry trade associations are asking the produce growers and processors to clean up their act.
The National Restaurant Association (NRA) is developing new standards for growers and wholesalers who want their produce served in member restaurants. And recently, a group of grocery retailers and wholesalers called on produce industry associations to implement tighter safety standards.
Other Groups Follow
In a letter to the Produce Marketing Association, the United Fresh Produce Association and the Western Growers Association, the retailers’ group, which includes officials from Supervalu, SYSCO, The Kroger Co., Safeway, Costco Wholesale Corp., Amerifresh, Markon Cooperative and Wegmans Food Markets, asked the trade groups to protect public health and work toward restoring consumer confidence in fresh produce.
“In response to multiple food-borne illnesses associated with fresh produce, the above listed companies recognize an opportunity to come together as never before to voice our needs and expectations,” they wrote. “We expect fresh produce industry associations to respond—collaboratively and expeditiously.”
The retailers set a Dec. 15 deadline for the industry to establish new safety guidelines for lettuce, spinach and other green leafy vegetables and a Feb. 15 deadline for guidelines related to melons, tomatoes and onions.
The industry has already responded by allocating millions of dollars to cre-ating and implementing those very standards. —L.K.