After conducting their own investigation into a deadly outbreak of listeriosis, federal health officials confirmed yesterday that the source was San Antonio produce company, Sangar Produce & Processing Co, which had been temporarily shut down by the state.
The Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) as stopped production at the produce processing plant last month after it linked five deaths to listeria-contaminated chopped celery from the facility.
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.”
The DSHS said that it 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.
Sangar had disputed test results from the Texas DSHS, arguing that independent tests by a private lab on the same batches failed to find any contamination.
But the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said in a statement that it found listeria bacteria on processed celery, but also in several places in the building including work surfaces after a visit on 14 and 15 October.
"The listeria identified in FDA samples matches the DNA fingerprint of the clinical cases of listeriosis reported by the Texas Department of State Health Services," said the US regulator.
The FDA added that it continues to work closely with the Texas food safety officials to review corrective actions being taken by the company to eliminate the presence of L. monocytogenes at its facility.
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.