Texan produce plant shut down after listeria-tainted celery kills five

By Caroline Scott-Thomas

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Illness, Epidemiology, Listeria monocytogenes

The Texas Department of State Health Services has stopped production at a produce processing plant in San Antonio after it linked five deaths to listeria-contaminated chopped celery from the facility.

The Department of State Health Services (DSHS) ordered on Wednesday that Sangar Fresh Cut Produce recall all products shipped from the plant since January, after laboratory tests indicated the presence of Listeria monocytogenes​ in packages of chopped celery that it sold to schools, hospitals and restaurants. The celery is not believed to have been sold directly to consumers, the DSHS said, and Sangar’s customers have been advised not to cook the affected product, but to return it or throw it away.

The department carried out the testing as part of an eight-month listeriosis outbreak investigation into ten illnesses, including the five deaths. Six of the illnesses have been positively linked to celery from Sangar’s San Antonio plant, and all were in people with serious underlying health problems.

Health officials said: “Pinpointing a Listeria source is often difficult due to the small number of cases, the illness’ long incubation period and difficulty collecting complete information about what people ate.”

Texas state law allows the health department to order companies to stop production and recall foods if conditions exist that pose “an immediate and serious threat to human life or health.”​ They found soil on a food preparation table, a condensation leak above a food processing area, and hand washing issues at the plant, the department said in a statement.

The plant is not authorized to reopen without approval from the Texas DSHS.

No one from Sangar Fresh Cut Produce responded to a request for further information prior to publication.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that about 2,500 people become seriously ill with listeriosis in the United States each year, and 500 die. Pregnant women are particularly at risk, with about one-third of listeriosis cases occurring during pregnancy, the CDC said.

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