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California fruit processing facility tests positive for listeria


(NaturalNews) A fruit processing plant in Vernon, Calif., has tested positive for contamination with the potentially deadly bacterium Listeria monocytogenes, according to a letter sent by the FDA to plant operator Simply Fresh Fruit Inc.

Of 100 environmental samples, three tested positive for listeria. Even more troubling is the fact that one product sample also tested positive for the bacteria, which can cause serious foodborne illness. Genetic testing confirmed that all four samples came from the same strain.

The inspections were performed in April and May, after Simply Fresh Fruit issued a voluntary recall for cut cantaloupe that had been processed on March 28 and packaged on March 29, that had tested positive for listeria. On April 14, the company also recalled more cantaloupe and cantaloupe-containing fruit mixes over possible listeria contamination.

The company had previously recalled fresh-cut fruit products containing cantaloupe in both March 2007 and March 2008, though those recalls were caused by concerns over salmonella contamination from outside suppliers.

Highly dangerous for children, pregnant women

L. monocytogenes is widespread in the environment, and can survive both refrigeration and freezing, but can be destroyed by cooking or by washing with soap and water. It is most likely to be found in under-cooked meat, improperly processed deli meat or in unpasteurized dairy prepared in unsanitary, factory-farm-like conditions. Raw vegetables and fruits can be contaminated with listeria from soil contamination caused by animal manure used as fertilizer or runoff from animal agriculture.

Once listeria enters a food processing facility, it can proliferate and spread to any food being prepared there.

Most cases of listeria infection do not cause illness, but the bacteria can cause a dangerous condition known as listeriosis in young children, pregnant women and people with compromised immune systems. Pregnant women can pass the disease onto their fetuses, potentially resulting in loss of the baby.

Among those who become ill, the casualty rate is high. The FDA also considers listeria a major public health concern due to its long incubation period, which can make it difficult to trace and control outbreaks.

Widespread violations

According to the FDA's October 19 warning letter, two of the positive listeria swabs at the Simply Fresh Fruit plant were discovered next to surfaces that came into contact with food: a panel surface and power switch on the side of a wash bin, and a power knob for a conveyor belt. The third sample came from the blade of a squeegee used to move water into a floor drain.

The company responded to the FDA's initial warning by stating that the listeria contamination originated on the floor, and that it had implemented new sanitation procedures for that area.

But the FDA also found other sanitation violations at the plant. Employees failed to properly clean and sanitize food processing surfaces before use, such that citrus buildup was even observed on some equipment. Floor drainage was inadequate, causing standing water to accumulate near food processing, washing and sanitation areas. FDA inspectors also found that employees would use their gloved hands to cut melons, then handle the interior fruit without changing or sanitizing those gloves.

Employees also stored uncovered bins of washed fruit while doing cleaning and sanitation of other fruit or equipment; forklifts splashed through standing water while delivering washed fruit; and bin dumpers were allowed to come into direct contact with wet floors.

The company told the FDA that it had retrained workers on proper storage of cut fruit. The agency said it would assess the new storage and floor cleaning practices during its next inspection.

But the FDA's letter noted that Simply Fresh Fruit made no response to the observed practices that would lead to cross-contamination.

Sources for this article include:




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