Unfortunately for Texans, the food safety spotlight is shining bright on Texas this week, and probably next week too. This week, the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) announced that chopped celery sold by Sangar Fresh Cut Produce was the source of a Listeria food poisoning outbreak. Texas DSHS had been investigating the source of 10 listeria illnesses, 5 of which resulted in death, for 8 months when investigators were finally able to determine that the source of the at least six of the listeria illnesses in the outbreak was Sangar’s chopped celery.
According to press reports, after making its determination that Sangar was the source of the listeria outbreak, Texas DSHS asked the company to temporarily shut processing, but the company refused. As a result, Texas DSHS shut Sangar down, due in part to its findings of listeria in Sangar products and environmental safety problems at the Sangar processing facility.
Phyllis Entis hit the nail on the head in her recent commentary about Sangar’s refusal, and Texas DSHS’s decisive actions:
This outbreak investigation is a case study in why food safety regulators need mandatory recall authority. Had this been a multi-state outbreak investigation, the company’s refusal to cooperate would have tied federal hands. Neither FDA nor USDA has the authority to require a food processor – even one operating under egregiously unsafe conditions – to shut down or to recall a product. All FDA can do (and has done on past occasions) is to issue a Consumer Alert. USDA is somewhat better equipped that FDA to apply pressure – it can withdraw its inspectors, and effectively shut down a food processing facility, but cannot mandate a recall.
While some people have expressed concern that mandatory recall authority would be wielded arbitrarily and excessively by regulators, that’s not what happened in Texas. The Texas DSHS acted to protect the public health, according to Carrie Williams, only once it was "100% certain" that Sanger’s chopped celery was the source of at least six cases of Listeria monocytogenes infections.
In other Texas foodpoisoning news, we filed another lawsuit today against Quality Egg d/b/a "Wright County Egg" on behalf of Texas resident Jim Bussey of Brookshire, Texas. Jim was one of over 1,800 people sickened in the Salmonella egg outbreak that stretched from last spring through the present.
Next week, we will be filing yet another lawsuit against Quality Egg on behalf of Texas residents Jennifer Pratt and her young son Jacob Tucker. Jacob, who was just three years old at the time of his Salmonella enteritidis infection and resulting illness, was ultimately hospitalized for eight days with severe complications from his Salmonella infection. Jacob developed a blood infection that ultimately took up residence in the bones and tissues in his right hip, requiring months of antibiotic treatment and severe pain. He continues to recover.