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)

Plant Harmful organisms in the EU – Annual report 2014

Article 16 (1) and (2) of Directive 2000/29/EC, requires that Member States immediately notify the European Commission and other Member States, of the presence or appearance of harmful organisms found on their territory or part of it, as well as the measures taken to eradicate or avoid the spread of the harmful organism concerned.

This is required whether the harmful organisms are regulated (specifically listed in European Union (EU) legislation) or not. The European Commission analyses and reports on these notifications on a continuous basis and provides monthly reports on notifications received to the Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed, section Plant Health, in order to assist risk management decisions at EU level.

This report provides an overview of the notifications received from Member States in 2014, as well as the main trends in the period 2010 to 2014.

The total number of notifications received annually has remained relatively stable since 2010. In 2014, a total of 220 notifications were received from 27 Member States. Approximately two thirds of these related to regulated harmful organisms. 19 were updates to previous notifications.

Some of the notifications received in 2014 give rise to concern because of the seriousness of the particular harmful organisms and because of their first finding or their spread in the EU territory. Some of these harmful organisms are currently non–regulated in the EU. However, because of the potential risk they present, they are listed in the European and Mediterranean Plant Protection Organisation Alert list, i.e. identified as good candidates for a Pest Risk Analysis.

At EU level, actions have been planned or are being taken with a view to addressing these risks. As in previous years, the number of notifications varies significantly between Member States which could reflect a different interpretation of Member States’ obligations pursuant to Article 16 (1) and (2).

Furthermore, despite some improvement compared to previous year, notifications still present a consistent lack of certain information which hinders the risk management decision process and capacity to have a clear picture of the effectiveness of phytosanitary measures implemented and of the status of the different harmful organisms in the EU. The adoption of Decision 2014/917/EU in December 2014, which sets out detailed rules for the implementation of Article 16 (1) and (2), combined with the development of a web-based notification system (EUROPHYT) and a common protocol for notifications, are expected to foster the harmonisation of practices between Member States. This should help timely decisions at EU level for an increased level of protection of the EU territory against phytosanitary risks.

In 2014, a large proportion of the outbreak notifications (72%) either did not make any reference to the source of the infestation or stated that it was unknown. Out of the 201 outbreak notifications, only 57 provided information on the possible source of the infestation. As regards movements within the EU, infested planting material is often considered as the likely source of the infestation.

Between the new risks identified the well known Xylella fastidiosa in coffee plants was the most dangerous. Xylella fastidiosa, a bacterium listed in Annex IAI, was first found in the EU in 2013, in the province of Lecce in Italy where a sudden decline of olives was observed. This finding was closely followed up by the Commission in consultation with the Standing Committee, and EU emergency measures were adopted in February 2014. In addition, a Commission audit was carried out to the affected area in February 2014, followed by 3 further audits since then to assess the situation and control measures implemented by the Competent Authorities. Amongst other exchanges of information with Italy, three notifications were received in 2014 in which Italy reported new vectors, new host plants and the extent of the infestation in the Lecce region (see also section 4.2.1). Regarding the findings on Coffea plants referred to in section 4.2.1, an import ban on such plants from Costa Rica and Honduras has been introduced with Commission Implementing Decision 2015/789/EU to protect the EU from further introductions from these origins.

For more information see also the EU Commission infographic.