A recall warning about food contaminated with Listeria seems to show up every day. Onions, cantaloupe and apple slices are the most recent listeria recalls in the news. The growing number of listeria recalls has raised concern about the safety of the U.S. food supply.
The danger of listeriosis
Listeria monocytogenes is a food borne illness-causing bacteria. The FDA warns that listeria monocytogenes can cause “serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people and others with weakened immune systems.” Healthy people may escape with flu-like symptoms and diarrhea. But for a pregnant woman, listeria infection can cause miscarriage and stillbirths. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are about 1,600 cases of listeriosis a year.
The largest outbreak of food-borne illness in decades occurred in 2011 when a 28-state listeriosis outbreak traced to Jensen Farms in Holly, Colo. resulted in 147 infections, 33 deaths and one miscarriage.
Recent listeria recalls
Ready Pac Foods Inc. is recalling about 300,000 cases of apple slices and 300,000 products containing apples sold at McDonald’s, Burger King and many national supermarket chains. Burch Equipment LLC or North Caroline is recalling nearly 200,000 “Caribbean Gold” cantaloupes. Earlier this year River Ranch Fresh Foods issued a voluntary recall for its bagged salad from stores across the nation. In 2011, lettuce from Oregon distributor True Leaf Farms was recalled from stores in Washington and Idaho.
The onion listeria recall
Perhaps the most serious recent listeria contamination involves onions. Gill’s Onions of Oxnard, Calif., announced its third listeria recall of the summer earlier this month. Products include diced and slivered red and yellow onions, diced celery/onion mix and whole onions.
Foods affected by the onion listeria recall are sold at grocery stores across the nation. They include pre-made products such as barbecue sauce, chicken salad and bean dip, shrimp salad, beet dressing, pre-made corned beef sandwiches, wingless buffalo blue cheese dip and veggie pizza.
The risky U.S. food supply
The scope of the listeria recalls shows how so much the U.S. food supply relies on just a few major food producers. What’s more, many of the products involved in the listeria recalls don’t even have the brand of the company issuing the recall on the label.
“Take something as simple as an onion and realize that a company distributes these onions quite far and wide,” said Michele Simon, a public health lawyer in an interview with ABC News. Simon, who is President of Eat, Drink, Politics, a public health advocacy firm, said, “They could be contained in products you don’t even think about.”
The listeria recalls should make everyone realize that products containing produce that is chopped up and processed in factories will come with the risk of contamination. The best way to protect yourself is to thoroughly wash all your produce and make your salad from scratch in your own kitchen, preferably with vegetables grown in your own garden.