FDA Investigates Listeria Outbreak Linked to Frozen Vegetables

The FDA, CDC and state and local officials are investigating a multi-state outbreak of listeriosis identified in March 2016.

The CDC reports that eight people infected with the outbreak strains of Listeria monocytogenes have been reported from three states (California, Maryland and Washington) from September 2013 – March 2016. Ill people ranged in age from 56 to 86, with a median age of 76. Epidemiology and laboratory evidence available at this time indicates that frozen vegetables produced by CRF Frozen Foods of Pasco, Washington, and sold under various brand names are one likely source of illnesses in this outbreak. As discussed further below, CRF Frozen Foods has initiated a recall of certain products.

As part of a routine product sampling program the Ohio Department of Agriculture collected packages of frozen vegetable products from a retail location and isolated Listeria monocytogenes from True Goodness by Meijer brand frozen organic white sweet cut corn and frozen organic petite green peas. Both products were produced by CRF Frozen Foods.

Whole genome sequencing showed that the Listeria monocytogenes isolate from the frozen corn was closely related genetically to seven bacterial isolates from ill people, and the Listeria monocytogenes isolate from the frozen peas was closely related genetically to one isolate from an ill person. This close genetic relationship provides additional evidence that the people in this outbreak became ill from eating frozen vegetables produced by CRF Frozen Foods.

Based on the positive findings by the Ohio Department of Agriculture, on April 22, 2016, CRF recalled 11 frozen vegetable products because they may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes. On May 2, 2016, following a conversation between FDA, CDC and the firm, CRF Frozen Foods expanded its recall to include all of its frozen organic and traditional fruit and vegetable products manufactured or processed in CRF Frozen Foods’ Pasco facility since May 1, 2014. Approximately 358 consumer products sold under 42 separate brands were recalled.

Additionally, March 2016 environmental samples collected by FDA from Oregon Potato Company, located in Pasco, WA, were found to be closely related genetically to seven of the isolates of ill people associated with this outbreak. Based on this information, Oregon Potato Company voluntarily recalled wholesale onion products, which led to subsequent downstream customer recalls, one disclaimer icon of which publicly disclosed Oregon Potato Company as its product source. FDA is working to identify other parts of the relevant supply chain that may have product relating to this outbreak.

(Source: FDA website)

QeA to EU Commission – Mandatory information about the food production site

In Italy there is an ongoing debate about the opportunity to maintain on food labels the indication of the address of the production site of a food as a mandatory particular. This provision was not expressly foreseen under Directive 2000/13/EC and is not mentioned in the Regulation (EU) No. 1169/2011. It was in fact a particular that only Italian law requested on mandatory basis (Legislative Decree No 109/1992 implementing Directive 2000/13).

The Italian Government has not notified any draft law requiring indication of such information to date. This means that at the moment provision of information about production site is no longer required for food labels, although  some political parties are strongly asking to reintroduce this obligation.

In this respect,the European Commission has clarified under which circumstances this indication may be legally justified and that information on origin or provenance must not be intended as a tool neither for fraud prevention, nor for protection of public health.

Question for written answer to the Commission – Elisabetta Gardini (PPE) – 2nd February 2015

Subject:  Information regarding food production sites

It is becoming increasingly difficult for European consumers to identify the geographical and production origins of goods due to the growing trend of selling items under the distributors’ brand. In addition, multinational groups are able to relocate their production sites to an entirely different country without needing to inform consumers, who may then be misled when trademarks implying incorrect geographical origins continue to be used.

Regulation (EU) No 1169/2011, which entered into force on 14 December 2014, contains no provision for mandatory indications of food production sites — this omission has raised serious concerns amongst producers and strong objections from consumers in a number of Member States.

1. In light of the above and following the statements made on 17 January 2015 by the Italian Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry Policies, Maurizio Martina, can the Commission confirm whether Member States are able to adopt measures rendering this information mandatory, justified on grounds of the protection of public health, but also for the prevention of fraud — as detailed in Article 39 of the above Regulation?

2. Does the Commission intend to clarify obligatory indications of country of origin for foods in all instances where omitting said indication could mislead consumers, including for reason detailed above?

Answer given by Mr Andriukaitis on behalf of the Commission – 27th February 2015

Article 39 paragraph 1 of Regulation (EU) No 1169/2011 provides an exhaustive list of possible justifications for Member States to adopt measures requiring additional mandatory particulars for specific types or categories of foods. Paragraph 2 of that Article specifies that Member States may introduce measures concerning the mandatory indication of the country of origin or place of provenance of foods only where there is a proven link between certain qualities of the food and its origin or provenance and when evidence is provided that the majority of consumers attach significant value to the provision of this information. The Commission would like however to clarify that it does not consider information on origin or provenance neither as a tool for the prevention of fraud, nor as a tool for the protection of public health. There are other mechanisms in place to ensure the safety and the traceability of food.

Article 26 paragraph 2(a) of Regulation (EU) No 1169/2011 already requests the indication of the country of origin or place of provenance when its omission might mislead the consumer as to the true origin of the food, in particular if the information accompanying the food or the label, such as the trademark mentioned by the Honourable Member, would otherwise imply a different origin.

(Source: European Parliament)