A food packaging company in Washington state has expanded a voluntary recall -- which at one time included just 11 products -- to encompass nearly 360 different organic and non-organic frozen fruits and vegetables that may be contaminated with the deadly Listeria monocytogenes bacteria.
On Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced the outbreak, which has hospitalized eight people across three states. Two of those patients, one from Maryland and the other from Washington state, died, though listeriosis was not considered to be the cause, according to the CDC. The other cases were reported in California.
The products in question are frozen fruits and vegetables from 42 different brands that were packaged at CRF Frozen Foods of Pasco, Washington, and sold at popular grocery stores like Trader Joe's and Costco in all 50 U.S. states and some parts of Canada.
"The long shelf life of the recalled frozen produce is of particular concern because consumers could have purchased the products long ago and not realize they have them in their homes," Bill Marler, a personal injury and products liability attorney from Washington, wrote in his blog on food poisoning outbreaks.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration released a full list of the recalled products on its website, which includes organic and non-organic broccoli, butternut squash, carrots, cauliflower, corn, edamame, green beans, Italian beans, kale, leeks, lima beans, onions, peas, pepper strips, potatoes, potato medley, root medley, spinach, sweet potatoes, various vegetable medleys, blends, and stir fry packages, blueberries, cherries, cranberries, peaches, raspberries, and strawberries, according to a CRF Frozen Foods news release.
"We apologize for any concern or inconvenience this expanded recall has caused our customers and consumers who enjoy our products," the news release said. "We are issuing this release to alert consumers not to eat these products. Consumers who purchased these products may return them to the store where they were purchased for a refund, or simply discard them."
"Listeria monocytogenes is commonly found in soil and water," according to the CDC. "Animals can carry the bacterium without appearing ill and can contaminate foods of animal origin, such as meats and dairy products. . ..When Listeria bacteria get into a food processing factory, they can live there for years, sometimes contaminating food products."
Listeria is a serious infection caused by consuming food contaminated with the Listeria monocytogenes bacteria and primarily affects the elderly, newborns, adults with compromised immune systems and pregnant women, according to the CDC. Listeria in pregnant women can lead to miscarriages, premature delivery, stillbirth and life-threatening infections in newborns.
Symptoms include fever, muscle aches and diarrhea. If untreated, the infection can be deadly.
The packaging company initially recalled 11 frozen vegetable products on April 23, then expanded the recall this week to include all products processed at the facility since May 1, 2014. Operations at the Pasco facility were suspended April 25 while a review is conducted.
The outbreak was first identified in March, according to the CDC, when several ill people reported eating Organic by Nature brand frozen vegetables, produced by CRF Frozen Foods.
Around that same time, the Ohio Department of Agriculture tested several packages of frozen vegetables for a routine product-sampling program, according to the CDC. The department found Listeria in frozen organic white sweet cut corn and petite green peas, both from the brand True Goodness by Meijer, which is produced by CRF Frozen Foods.
After further testing, officials found that the food products were related genetically to the Listeria found in the ill patients, the CDC reported, providing a more concrete link to CRF Frozen Foods.
Of the eight known cases, six were discovered between 2013 and 2015. The first was found in September 2013 and the most recent was on March 28, 2016. The victims have all been between 56 and 86 years old and most are female. All were hospitalized.
Listeria outbreaks aren't uncommon in the United States.
One of the most well-known outbreaks came in 2015, when Blue Bell Creameries recalled all of its ice cream products after 10 people across four states fell ill. Three people died. The recall was the first it the company's more than 100-year history.
In January 2016, Dole recalled all salad mixes produced in an Ohio processing facility after people who consumed the greens fell ill. In total, 19 cases were reported across 19 states. All 19 people were hospitalized, and one person from Michigan died from the infection. One case was reported in a pregnant woman. An additional 14 cases were reported in Canada, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada.
Past Listeria cases have included contaminated raw milk, prepackaged caramel apples and several different cheese products.
One of the most deadly outbreaks involved bacteria ridden cantaloupes from Jensen Farms in Colorado in 2011. The case count climbed to 147, and the food-borne illness killed 33 people and hospitalized 143 people across 28 states. One woman, who was pregnant when she fell ill, had a miscarriage.
The CDC called the frozen vegetable case "complicated" and said the investigation is ongoing.
CRF Frozen Foods asked concerned consumers to call the company hotline at 844-483-3866.