CDC Announces Listeria Outbreak In Frozen Produce

May 5, 2016
Originally published on May 5, 2016 6:19 pm
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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

A national recall of frozen fruits and vegetables is underway. Earlier this week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced an outbreak of food-borne illnesses linked to listeria. Eight people have gotten sick. As NPR's Allison Aubrey reports, those fruits and veggies sold by major retailers are thought to be the likely cause.

ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: The company at the center of the recall is CRF Frozen Foods. It packages hundreds of different types of fruits and vegetables for many different house brands, sold by chains such as Trader Joe's, Safeway and Costco.

Now, what led investigators to CRF was the result of a food safety test conducted by inspectors in Ohio that turned up evidence of listeria on frozen organic peas and corn processed at CRF's facility in Washington state. The CDC says frozen produce from this facility is one likely source of illness in the outbreak. And yesterday, the company announced a voluntary recall of all frozen fruits and vegetables produced at this facility.

MARTIN BUCKNAVAGE: This is a large recall.

AUBREY: That's Martin Bucknavage, a food safety expert at Penn State. He says it's not yet clear how listeria ended up in the product. Processors like this one typically take raw fruits and vegetables and blanch them using hot steam or water.

BUCKNAVAGE: Generally the blanching process itself applies enough heat to eliminate the listeria.

AUBREY: But contamination can occur after blanching. For instance, listeria can get lodged and grow in the crook of a piece of equipment or on a transfer belt. Donna Garren of the American Frozen Food Institute says CRF, which is a member of the Frozen Food Institute, is likely working hard to figure out what happened.

DONNA GARREN: I'm sure that right now they are going through the process of recall analysis to, you know, try to identify what could have occurred and try to correct that.

AUBREY: Now, hearing about the recall, the question that comes to mind is what can we do at home to limit the risk of getting sick? Penn State's Martin Bucknavage says heat is the best bet. But he points out this doesn't work if you are taking, say, frozen berries and tossing them into a juicer.

A quick microwaving can kill the bacteria as long as the produce gets to 165 degrees. And remember, older people are most at risk. A healthy immune system staves off all sorts of things, including sickness from low levels of listeria. Allison Aubrey, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.