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Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

Texas orders Sangar Produce Shut after Listeria sickens and possibly kills five

Screen shot 2010-10-20 at 7.37.07 PM.pngThe Texas Department of State Health Services today ordered Sangar Fresh Cut Produce in San Antonio to stop processing food and recall all products shipped from the plant since January. The order was issued after laboratory tests of chopped celery from the plant indicated the presence of Listeria monocytogenes, a bacterium that can cause severe illness.

State law allows DSHS to issue such orders when conditions exist that pose “an immediate and serious threat to human life or health.”

The recalled products – primarily cut fresh produce in sealed packages – were distributed to restaurants and institutional entities, such as hospitals and schools, and are not believed to be sold in grocery stores.

The testing was done as part of a DSHS investigation into 10 listeriosis cases, including five deaths, reported to the department over an eight-month period. Six of the 10 cases have been linked to chopped celery from the Sangar plant. The illnesses occurred in Bexar, Travis and Hidalgo counties. All of the illnesses were in people with serious underlying health problems.

Health officials said pinpointing a Listeria source is often difficult due to the small number of cases, the illness’ long incubation period and difficulty collecting complete information about what people ate.

DSHS inspectors also found sanitation issues at the plant and believe the Listeria found in the chopped celery may have contaminated other food produced there. The department found a condensation leak above a food product area, soil on a preparation table and hand washing issues. DSHS food safety personnel are contacting distributors, restaurants and institutions believed to have received the recalled products to ensure they are taking appropriate action to protect consumers.  For more information about Listeria, see the Parent’s Guide to Listeria.

  • Art Davis

    See the attached link for for a news note on Sangar Produce from last August. They claimed a superior food safety system and suggest all producers in the San Antonio area should meet the same standard. Using food safety as a marketing tool has its risks.

  • Bill Anderson

    I would maintain that listeria poisoning issues are largely a product of modern sterile industrial food processing techniques.
    While listeria is a poor competitor with most of the diverse micro-organisms found in traditionally prepared foods (more on this later…) it will thrive in modern food processing enviroments. Being a cheese maker, my experience is primarily in dairy — perhaps not directly applicable to this vegetable processing situation, but pertinant nonethless.
    Listeria can build up a resistance to chlorine and other chemical sanitizers, and can probably be cultured from the chlorine foot baths found in the entrance to most modern food processing plants. Listeria is a pyscrotroph (can grow under very cold conditions), faculative anaerobe (grows with lack of oxygen), and tends to live in pools of standing water.
    Now, compare the modern dairy processing enviroment to a traditional one.
    Modern, Industrial dairy processing plant:
    -Standing water everywhere
    -All dairy products are held at refrigerator temperatures (~38F)
    -All dairy products are sealed under virtually or totally anaerobic conditions, in sterile or virtually sterile containers which are usually impervious to air
    -Pastuerization and chemical sanitizers are the primary means to control pathogenic micro-organisms
    Traditional cheese cave/cellar:
    -Humidity in the air, but little or no standing water
    -Temperature in the mid-50F’s
    -All dairy products are aged aerobically, in the open air, on permeable, breathing wooden boards, and are packaged in breathable papers, mats, or wooden boxes
    -The encouragement of bio-diverse ripening micro-organisms is the primary means to control pathogenic micro-organisms
    Now in which enviroment do you think listeria is going to thrive? If you answered #1, you would be correct.
    Now consider these studies, which show how enterococcus naturally present in raw milk, produce compounds that supress the growth of listeria in traditional raw milk cheese, while also enhancing the flavor:
    Yet more evidence that it is NOT the presence of pathogenic organisms that is making people sick, but rather, the ABSENCE of good micro-organisms. As you even note in the article, Mr. Marler, the individuals who became ill were already comprimised, probably thanks at least in part to our modern industrialized food system which deprives people of nutrient dense pro-biotic foods.
    My example above, of the traditional vs. the modern dairy processing enviroment, illustrates perfectly the concept that THE TERRAIN IS EVERYTHING, THE ORGANISM IS NOTHING.