Over the last week both the CDC and FDA, along with various State Departments of Health and Agriculture, have been investigating two Listeria outbreaks linked to the consumption of various leafy greens. Using Whole Genome Sequencing (WGS), product testing and clinical (human) sampling, health authorities have both determined that the source of the infection is Fresh Express and Dole and that the outbreaks are linked to illness that have been occurring since 2014.
A common question is why did it take so long to link all the illnesses?
It is likely that there have been low-level, but persistent Listeria contamination in both processing facilities that was not being picked up in the first epidemiological investigations. It is most likely that the outbreaks were noticed, and the illnesses linked – both past and present – when product samples from various states were uploaded to CDC PulseNet.
I must admit that I am familiar with both Fresh Express and Dole:
- Dole Lettuce E. coli Outbreak Lawsuits – Minnesota, Wisconsin, Oregon (2005)
- Dole Spinach E. coli Outbreak Lawsuits – Nationwide (2006)
- Dole Lettuce Listeria Outbreak Lawsuits – Midwest (2016)
- Fresh Express Cyclospora Outbreak Lawsuits – Nationwide (2018)
- Fresh Express Cyclospora Outbreak Lawsuits – Nationwide (2020)
Fresh Express Lettuce – 10 sick with 1 death in 8 states – 2021
Illnesses: As of December 21, 2021, 10 people infected with the outbreak strain of Listeria monocytogenes have been reported from eight states: Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia. Illnesses started on dates ranging from July 26, 2016 through October 19, 2021. Sick people range in age from 44 to 95 years, with a median age of 80, and 60% are female. All 10 people have been hospitalized. One death has been reported from Pennsylvania. WGS showed that bacteria from sick people’s samples are closely related genetically. This means that people in this outbreak likely got sick from the same food.
Traceback and Recall: On December 16, 2021, the Michigan Department of Agriculture identified the outbreak strain of Listeria in a bag of Fresh Express Sweet Hearts packaged salad. On December 20, 2021, Fresh Express recalled several brands of packaged salad products. The recall includes all Use-By Dates with product codes Z324 through Z350.
Dole Lettuce – 16 sick with 2 deaths in 13 states – 2021
Illnesses: As of December 17, 2021, 16 people infected with the outbreak strain of Listeria monocytogenes have been reported from 13 states: Idaho, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin. Illnesses started on dates ranging from August 16, 2014, to October 17, 2021. Sick people range in age from 50 to 94 years, with a median age of 76, and 81% are female. Of 14 people with information available, 12 have been hospitalized. Two deaths have been reported from Michigan and Wisconsin. WGS showed that bacteria from sick people’s samples are closely related genetically. This suggests that people in this outbreak got sick from the same food.
Traceback and Recall: In October 2021, the Georgia Department of Agriculture identified the outbreak strain of Listeria in a Dole brand garden salad as part of a routine sampling program of food at grocery stores. As a result, Dole recalled some of their garden salad products that are now past their “best if used by” dates. This sampling was not part of this outbreak investigation, but WGS later showed that the Listeria bacteria in the garden salad were closely related to the outbreak strain. After CDC reopened this outbreak investigation, Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development collected samples of packaged salads from retail stores for testing and identified the outbreak strain of Listeria in a Marketside brand package of shredded iceberg that was produced by Dole. On December 22, 2021, Dole recalled all Dole-branded and private label packaged salads processed at the two facilities that produced the contaminated packaged salads.
Marler Clark Listeria Litigation: