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Listeria monocytogenes in Veggies Caused a Chain Reaction Across US and Canada

A variety of minimally processed vegetables produced by Mann Packing of Salinas, California were recalled because of a possibility of contamination with Listeria monocytogenes.  The refrigerated and frozen vegetables were sold throughout the US and Canada. The recall of the vegetables from Mann Packaging impacted ten supermarket chains and several producers that used Mann Packaging products in their products. This huge recall is solely based on a single positive sample found during random sampling by Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

The Origin

The FDA announced that on October 19 that the Salinas, California-based Mann Packaging company, one of the largest suppliers of fresh vegetables in North America, issued a voluntary recall of freshly-cut vegetables. These products were stored in grocery freezers and were distributed to other supermarket chains and producers across the USA and Canada.
The recalled products included: Broccoli Cole Slaw, Broccoli Cauliflower Florets, Brussels Sprouts, California Stir Fry, Vegetable Medley,  Kale Beet Blend, Fiesta Vegetable Tray, Veggie Hummus Tray, Nourish Bowl Cauli Rice Curry, Nourish Bowl Monterey Risotto, Nourish Bowls Butternut Kale Risotto, Nourish Bowls Sesame Sriracha,, Culinary Cuts Cauliettes Chopped Cauliflower, Kale Caesar Kit, , and many more.
Mann Packaging management decided to recall the product after “a single positive result” for Listeria monocytogenes that was found in a product during random sampling by Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
“As an owner of this company and a mom, providing safe and healthy foods to our consumers and their families is always our top priority,” said Gina Nucci, Director of Corporate Marketing . “This voluntary recall is a reflection of our commitment to ensuring the safety of our consumers.”

Associated Recalls

As a result of the Mann Packaging recall, multiple recalls resulted in across the country because these products contained vegetables sourced from Mann Packaging.  The recall impacted numerous famous brands such as Mann’s brands, Archer Farms, Cross Valley, Signature and store brands from Wal-Mart, Target (Archer Farms) and Trader Joe’s.  It also affected some supermarket chains such as Meijer, Albertson, Safeway, Whole Foods Market, Vons, Randall’s Food Markets, Tom Thumb, Park N’ Save, H-E-B, and more.   Meijer, for example, recalled approximately 20 store brand products from over 300 stores in Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, Ohio, and Kentucky. Stores of Albertson’s, Randalls, and Tom Thumb, removed products sold under the Ready. Chef. Go! Label, in Texas, Louisiana, and Arkansas. The seafood meals were in cooking bags and included vegetables from Mann Packing.
The recall also influenced restaurants, school cafeteria suppliers and institutions suppliers such as Triple B Corporation of Pacific Coast.  Paragon Wholesale Foods from Warrendale, PA distributed broccoli florets to multiple schools in the Greater Pittsburgh and Butler, PA areas.
According to the FDA, the recalls were issued as a result of the Listeria found in Mann Packaging products:
It is important to mention that there have been no illnesses associated with all these recalls.
It seems as if every day more companies are announcing recalls due to potential Listeria contamination as an impact of the recall by Mann Packaging, as the ripple effect continues through the USA and Canada.

Questions Asked

Important questions come to mind when reviewing this web of recalls:
Should such an impactful recall be done based on a single positive sample? Where there other signs of Listeria contamination in the plant? What happened to subsequent samples taken from the same product?
In the era of the immediacy of information through the Internet, why did it take so long for the recalls to trickle down to all the companies that purchased products from Mann packaging? Faster information transfer would have saved a lot of food and save a significant amount of money.
How can more effective announcement system be put into place?

One Year Later: Is there an Effect of FSMA on FDA Food Recalls in 2017?

In 2011 the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) was signed into law and started to be implemented in September of 2016.We looked at the recall statistics during similar periods in 2016 and 2017.  As in previous years, allergens and microbial contamination lead the reasons for recalls in both years. The early data does not show a significant impact of the new FSMA rules on recalls due to allergens. The total recalls due to microbial contamination were 60% higher in 2016 as compared to 2017. Could it be a result of the new FSMA regulations?

Original Believe of the Impact of FSMA

On January 4, of 2011 The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) was signed by President Obama. FSMA is believed to be the most far-reaching reform in food safety.  FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, M.D., posted a blog on the meaning of the new law.
The profound changes mentioned Included:
  • Preventing illnesses, rather than reacting to them. Food producers and processors are bearing the primary responsibility to illnesses prevention.
  • The law gives the FDA new legal power making sure companies are meeting their duty to prevent illnesses rather removing the food from the market after the fact.
  • Creating a risk-based system of food safety.
  • Assuring that importers of food use the same food safety rules as domestic manufacturers.
After a long preparation period, last September (2016), the first FSMA implementation step took effect, when companies having 500 + full-time employees had to comply with Preventive Control Rules.  Smaller companies will have another year or two to comply.

Comparison of FDA recall data 2016 (Jan-Sep) and the same months in 2017

In both periods the two major reasons for the FDA recalls were due to microbial contamination and undeclared allergens.  Most microbiological recalls are due to Listeria monocytogenes and Salmonella. Most undeclared allergens recall due to not declaring allergens on the product label.
Allergens have persisted as a leading reason for food recalls due to the implementation of labeling rules in the United States and Canada, which leads to greater regulatory scrutiny and enforcement. As can seem from the figure below, the number of recalls due to allergens was quite similar in 2016, and both were lower than the recalls due to microbial contamination. The early data does not show a significant impact of the new FSMA rules on recalls due to allergens.
The total recalls due to microbial contamination were 60% higher in 2016 as compared to 2017. It could be as a result of the new FSMA regulations that were put into place. However, almost all the difference is due to two large spikes in LM recalls in April-June of 2016. These recalls are a result of many recalls associated with SunOpta, a Canadian company that on May 4, 2016, recalled sunflower kernel products that had the potential to be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.
The roasted sunflower kernel products were sold directly to customers and distributed to other manufacturers, including Quaker Oats, Planters and Clif Bar brands, PepsiCo, tree House, Atkins, Kashi, Hershey, Quaker, and many more companies.  It resulted in almost 50 recalls in April-May 2106. Adjusting the numbers of recalls excluding the SunOpta recalls making the two periods quite similar.

The Ripple Effect

In recent years, several cases of large-scale recalls have been linked to a single ingredient supplied to countless number of manufacturers.  In some cases, recall from a supplier to the industry causes a primary recall, followed by a secondary report and even a tertiary recalls. This happened 2017 due to powdered milk and buttermilk powder produced by Valley Milk Products (VMP). As we reported in January 2017, five months after the U.S. Marshals Service raided a powdered milk factory at the request of FDA, many companies were drawn into the Salmonella recall linked to milk powder and buttermilk produced by Valley Milk Products (VMP).
The Valley Milk Products recall resulted in a subsequent ripple effect of recalls affecting over 30 companies. Secondary recalls included companies such as Twinkies, Palmer candy, Herr Foods, Dawn Food Products, House- Autry, Dieffenbach’s,  Mikesell’s  and Route 11potato chips, Tupperware  Southwest Chipotle Seasoning, Stonewall Kitchen Cinnamon Apple, Orange Cranberry and Toasted Coconut and Pancake & Waffle Mixes and many more. The tertiary Effect included companies that used products of the secondary group of products.
However, some of these large recalls have yet to cause a single illness. The products are pulled off the shelves solely as preventive measures. This shows that most of the recalls were preventative and not necessarily as a result of the presence of dangerous organisms.


How do we Measure Success of FSMA?

FSMA is all about prevention and should transform the US system to a system that will prevent or significantly reduce foodborne illnesses. Therefore, FSMA success should result in a reduction in foodborne illnesses. However, it is too early to access success using this measure.  A reduction in the number of recalls might not be the best indicator of success.
Many of the FSMA activities that are being established, initially causes an increase in pathogens finding.  The more one looks for pathogens, including testing the environment extensively, the more one is likely to find them. Therefore, the decline in recalls is somewhat surprising.
It is very important to establish measuring systems that will allow us to access the true economic and safety impact of these new regulations.

New Recalls: GreenCore USA Recalls Sandwiches due to Listeria; Vermont Livestock recalls Ground beef due to E. coli; Frozen Peas Recalled by Pinnacle Foods

In the last couple of months, there were very few recalls due to microbial contamination. However, a couple of recalls were announced in the last few days.

GreenCore Recall of Sandwiches due to Listeria monocytogenes

On September 29, 2017, the FDA announced that GreenCore had recalled a variety of sandwich salads (egg salad sandwiches, ham salad sandwiches, and seafood) because Listeria monocytogenes (LM) was found after a routine inspection by the FDA at the Rhode Island plant environment. LM was not found in any of the products of the company.
The sandwiches were distributed to American Food and Vending, Hannaford Brothers, Target, and Turkey Hill in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire and New York.
The company did not receive any reports of illnesses, but there is a concern that there might be recalled products in customer refrigerators, because the use by date on the sandwiches ranges from October 2 to 19. The company said that the recall was “purely precautionary measure, as no finished products have been found to have Listeria present and no confirmed illnesses have been reported.”
As a result of the recall, GreenCore Company shares had fallen by 7% in London.  
GreenCore troubles with LM go way back to 2011 when the FDA inspectors found LM on food contact surfaces in their production facility in Newburyport, MA. In October 2012, a warning letter was sent to the company ordering them to clean up their operation and establish programs to prevent pathogens in the environment.
In November of 2016, GreenCore chicken Hummus sandwiches were recalled as part of the Sabra hummus recall.

Vermont Livestock recalls Ground Beef Contaminated with E. coli O157: H7 

On October 13, the US Food Service Inspection (FSIS) and the US Department of Agriculture announced the recall of around 133 pounds of ground beef products from Vermont Livestock because it might have been contaminated with E. coli O157: H7.
The FSIS was notified about an investigation of the illnesses of two children by E. coli O157: H7 on September 30, 2017.  One of the two children was hospitalized, and since both children have recovered. Working with the Vermont Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, identified the source of the infection as being cooked beef burgers served at Bread & Butter Farm event.
Using Traceback information showed that the beef for the burgers was supplied by Vermont Livestock Slaughter & Processing. In abundance of caution, the company is recalling the products. The recalled ground beef is no longer available in commerce. However, the FSIS and the company are concerned that some product may be frozen and in customers’ freezers. 

Pinnacle Foods recalls Frozen Sweet Peas Due to Listeria monocytogenes 

Birds Eye brand peas are being recalled by several grocery chains, such as Publix, due to positive samples for LM. However, the FDA had not issued a public notice. The recalled Birds Eye Baby Sweet Peas (13 oz. package) have“Best By” dates of July 5, 2019, and July 6, 2019. Approximately 25,000 cases of product are being recalled by Pinnacle Foods.  No illness has been reported as a result of this recall. However, there is a concern that customers have some products in their freezers.