cantaloupe.jpgThis past week, the FDA released its report on conditions at the Jensen Farms packing facility that led to the deadly, multi-state listeria outbreak. 

In the report, the FDA stated  that “This is the first listeriosis outbreak associated with a whole fruit or vegetable raw agricultural commodity.”  However, the conditions at the Jensen Farms facility were reminiscent of those found at the Sangar Fresh Cut Produce facility in San Antonio, Texas in 2010.

The Jensen Farms/Frontera Produce 2011 Listeria Outbreak – Cantaloupe

The most recent CDC updatenow lists 123 people ill, including 25 deaths, as a result of consumption of cantaloupes grown and distributed by Jensen Farms and Frontera Produce. Cases have been reported in 26 states, and the numbers are likely to increase further.

The Sangar Fresh Cut Produce 2010 Listeria Outbreak – Celery (and more?)

Texas Department of State Health Services (TX DSHS) announced on October 20, 2010 that the agency had identified food produced by Sangar  as the source of listeriosis infections in at least ten Texas residents over an 8-month period. The next day Texas authorities ordered Sangar to suspend business and recall all products shipped since January 2010. Such action is only allowed when conditions exist that pose an immediate and serious threat to human life or death. The recalled products were primarily cut fresh produce in sealed packages.  The products had been distributed mostly to schools and hospitals.

Investigators identified ten Listeria cases linked to Sangar’s produce, including five deaths. Illnesses occurred in the following counties: Bexar, Travis, Guadelupe, and Hidalgo.  Seven of the ten patients had consumed chopped celery produced at the Sangar plant in San Antonio. Listeria was isolated from samples of chopped celery produced by Sangar in early October 2010.

Conditions at Jensen Farms

Bill Marler recently summarized FDA’s findings concerning conditions at Jensen Farms.  Jensen’s failures included poor design of both the facility and the equipment.  The facility design allowed for pooling of water – a known harborage site for listeria.  In addition, the design of the facility made cleaning difficult, further increasing the likelihood of the persistence of listeria in the facility.  On top of this, the equipment was reportedly old, dirty, and at least partially un-cleanable.

The post-harvest practices at Jensen were also found to be problematic.  FDA reported that the cantaloupe were not properly cooled, allowing for condensation.   Again, the wet conditions increase susceptibility to listeria contamination.

Conditions at Sangar

Comparing the conditions at Sangar, you can see a number of similarly themed problems.  The FDA’s investigation revealed the following observations:

  • Observation 1: Failure to protect against contamination of food and food contact surfaces with microorganisms.
  • Observation 2: Failure to conduct cleaning and sanitizing operations for utensils and equipment in a manner that protects against contamination of food, food-contact surfaces, and food-packaging materials.
  • Observation 3: Employees did not wash hands thoroughly in an adequate hand-washing facility at any time their hands may have become soiled or contaminated.
  • Observation 4: Personnel with adverse health conditions are not instructed to report to their supervisors.
  • Observation 5: Failure to clean food-contact surfaces and utensils as frequently as necessary and to protect against contamination of food.
  • Observation 6: Failure to take apart equipment as necessary for thorough cleaning.
  • Observation 7: Failure to take effective measures to protect finished food from contamination by raw materials and refuse.
  • Observation 8: Failure to store raw materials in a manner that protects against contamination.
  • Observation 9: The design, construction, and use of equipment and utensils fail to preclude the adulteration of food with contaminants.
  • Observation 10: Failure to maintain equipment, containers, and utensils used to store food in a manner that protects against contamination.
  • Observation 11: Lack of adequate drainage of areas that may contribute to contamination of food by seepage, food-borne filth, and providing a breeding place for pests.
  • Observation 12: Failure to hold foods that can support the rapid growth of undesirable microorganisms at a temperature that prevents the food from becoming adulterated.
  • Observation 13: The plant is not constructed in such a manner as to allow floors and walls to be adequately cleaned and kept clean and kept in good repair.
  • Observation 14: Plumbing constitutes a source of contamination to food, water supplies, equipment, and utensils.
  • Observation 15: Failure to maintain in sanitary condition buildings, fixtures, or other physical facilities.
  • Observation 16: Failure to provide a sanitary towel service or suitable hand drying devices.
  • Observation 17: Hand-washing facilities lack running water of a suitable temperature.
  • Observation 18: Failure to adequately screen or provide other protection against pests.
  • Observation 19: Appropriate training in food handling techniques and food protection principles has not been provided to food handlers.

It is troubling to see another firm repeat so many of the errors that had led to numerous deaths only a year earlier.