Despite the recall of millions of fruits and vegetables that CRF Frozen Foods products shipped all across America and parts of Mexico and Canada, authorities worry that they may not be able to stem the tide of listeria-linked illnesses and deaths because it would be an impossible task to get all consumers to rummage through their freezers and return these products, some bought as far back as 2014.
As The Washington Post reports, experts are calling this one of the largest food recalls in recent times. Over 400 products from CRF Frozen Foods that have been sold under 40 brand names like Target, Costco, Trader Joe’s, and Safeway are being recalled. Already, eight people have fallen sick because of listeria, and two people have been reported dead even though their death has not been linked to listeria yet.
— The Mississauga News (@MissiNewsRoom) May 20, 2016
Matthew Wise, coordinator of the outbreak response team at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said, “unquestionably, this is a lot of product…it reflects the severity of listeria as an illness, the long duration of illnesses, the outbreak and the long shelf life of the products.”
An initial recall began April 22, comprising of only 11 frozen vegetable products. By May 2, CRF had widened the net to encompass all its organically frozen and traditional fruit and vegetable products developed or processed at the parent plant in Paso, Washington, since May 1, 2014.
The Food and Drug Administration and CDC were able to locate listeria bacteria in the blood of a sick person in 2013, thanks to recently developed whole-genome sequencing for food-contaminating bacteria. CRF spokesman Gene Grabowski said, “the idea is that it’s possible that it could be linked to this plant as far back as that because of the match. As a result, the company, working with the FDA, decided to do the recall that far back.” Grabowski confirmed that the parent plant in Washington was closed down two weeks ago so that the company could locate the exact source of contamination.
Wise warned that listeriosis was a serious infection and most harmful to pregnant women and adults over the age of 65 with weakened immune systems.
— CBC News (@CBCNews) May 21, 2016
Wise expressed worry that many consumers were only looking at recall lists online and not paying attention to products that were being packaged for sale as single products and repackaged in places like ConAgra, Kroger and Piggy Wiggly foods as ingredients as private label products for stores like Costco.
In the same vein, retailers like Target and regional distributors like Hy-Vee Foods are also recalling products made by Asian giant Ajinomoto Windsor because the company reeled back 70 of its Asian products that contain vegetables from CRF. This recall is estimated to be about 47 million pounds in weight—a large portion has been sold in Mexico and Canada as well.
The CDC and FDA have a taut framework in place that allows them to track the genetic makeup of listeria, salmonella, and E.coli. As soon as a food-related illness outbreak is recognized, scientists can then link the DNA from the contaminated food to the bacteria that is making people sick, tracing it to the originating source or food processing plant from which it emanated.
Authorities are unsure at this point if it is only listeria illnesses they have to worry about. Wise pointed out that the listeria contamination would be unequal in packaged vegetables and that the products being recalled would still need to be cooked before they could be eaten, which would kill off any bacteria, but no risks were being taken. Listeria is responsible for 1,600 illnesses in the U.S. every year, only 50 percent of them are reported, and around 18 percent of those infected die.
[Image via Shutterstock/anucha maneechote]