- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 20, 2017

At least 14 U.S. food companies this month have issued voluntary recalls for products vulnerable to listeria, a bacterial infection that poses dangers to pregnant women, infants, the elderly and anyone with a weakened immune system.

About 1,600 people each year are sickened by listeria, which can cause diarrhea, fever, fatigue, muscle aches and death. About 260 die annually from listeria-related illness.

All of the food companies that have issued recalls said no illnesses related to their products had been reported.

On Monday, House of Thaller in Knoxville, Tennessee, recalled select packages of hummus because a supplier notified the company that one of the ingredients had the potential for contamination of Listeria monocytogenes.

Last week, recalls were issued for an animal food product, a chickpea snack, and almond and cashew butter because the food companies had discovered listeria somewhere along the production line. It was not known if the products contained listeria, but the potential of sickening the public prompted the recalls.

According to the Food and Drug Administration, foodborne illnesses generally increase in the summer because bacteria multiply faster in warm weather.

But listeria also thrives in the cold, so bacteria can grow in refrigerated items and infect other food through contact.

The FDA does not consider the spate of recalls a “listeria outbreak” because no illnesses have been reported.

Outbreaks are not uncommon: Since the start of this year, two people have died and eight others have been hospitalized for listeria contamination from Vulto Creamery raw milk cheeses.

The worst U.S. outbreak in almost a century was in 2011, when 33 people died and 143 were hospitalized, with one woman suffering a miscarriage, after consuming listeria-contaminated cantaloupe.

At the time of the outbreak, public health officials and investigators worked feverishly across 28 states to determine the source of the infection.

Patient interviews and medical tests led the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to narrow their search to a specific brand of cantaloupe, and testing of the fruit proved positive for listeria.

The infection was traced to contaminated cantaloupe produced by Jensen Farms, run by brothers Eric and Ryan Jensen. The facility was found to be teeming with listeria bacteria.

The Jensen brothers pleaded guilty to misdemeanor counts of introducing contaminated food into interstate commerce, for which they could have faced up to six years in prison and $1.5 million in fines. They were sentenced to six months of house arrest as part of five years’ probation and 100 hours of community service. They also were ordered to pay $150,000 in restitution to the victims.

A full list of recently recalled items is available on the FDA website.

The FDA recommends safe food-handling techniques, such as chilling food to 40 degrees Fahrenheit or lower, properly sealing foods in a refrigerator or freezer, and keeping food preparation areas clean. Precooked and ready-to-eat foods should be consumed quickly; the longer they are stored, the more potential for listeria to develop and grow.

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