USA Today reports, “Texas officials have ordered a plant that makes cut-fresh produce to close after its chopped celery was linked to at least four deaths and two other illnesses in the state over the past eight months.” The move to shutter Sangar Fresh Cut Produce’s plant in San Antonio follows “laboratory tests of its celery” that “showed the presence of Listeria monocytogenes, a bacterium that can cause fever, muscle aches, diarrhea and vomiting. It is most dangerous in seniors, pregnant women, newborns and people with weakened immune systems.”
The Houston Chronicle reports the state agency has sought the “recall of all of the company’s products shipped from there since January.” The Chronicle adds, “Officials say there’s no indication the celery was shipped outside Texas.” The Texas Department of State Health Services “inspectors also found sanitation issues at the plant, including a condensation leak above a food product area, soil on a preparation table and improper hand washing by employees.”
The AP, citing an FDA official, said the agency “may decide to expand a recall.” Meanwhile, in a statement Thursday, “Kenneth Sanquist Jr., the company’s president,” said the company “questions the validity of the state’s lab results because flawed methods were used to collect its samples.” He said “the sample at the plant ‘appears’ to have been taken by someone not wearing proper lab attire and proper gloves and was transported in an unrefrigerated container.” DSHS spokeswoman Carrie Williams said “the agency stands by its analysis and lab results.”
Advocates say outbreak may push Senate to pass food safety bill. NPR “Shots Blog” reports, “If contaminated eggs weren’t enough, food safety advocates are hoping” the “small but deadly outbreak” in Texas “may tip the Senate towards passage of a bill next month.” Erik Olson of the Pew Health Group said, “We need legislation that prevents foodborne illness before it occurs, rather than chasing after illnesses after people have already gotten sick.” NPR says “Olson and others – from consumer groups to producers, have called for the Senate to pass the bill, which would increase inspections, amp up the FDA’s recall authority, and give it new tools to detect illness before it gets too widespread.”
Health groups, farmers at odds over food safety bill amendment. CQ Today reported, “Nine consumer and public health groups are at odds with a coalition of small-farm and rural organizations over an amendment that Sens. Jon Tester and Kay Hagan plan to offer if a major food safety bill moves to the Senate floor in the lame-duck session.” CQ says “at issue is an amendment that would address the treatment of small- and medium-sized producers and food facilities in the bill.” Although “both sides in the latest dispute…back a bipartisan manager’s package that includes protections for small farms, they are divided on how they think the legislation to strengthen” FDA “food safety enforcement powers would affect those producers.”
Independent food inspectors said to have conflicts of interest. The Washington Post reports that food retail executives and other industry experts say that the food industry’s voluntary quality control system “is rife with conflicts of interest, inexperienced auditors and cursory inspections that produce inflated ratings.” Private inspectors “are typically paid by the companies they are inspecting, creating a conflict of interest for inspectors who might fear they will lose business if they don’t give high ratings.” Additionally, companies can prepare for scheduled inspections, and there are no standards for auditors. In fact, producers who had to recall foods often received top marks in their inspections. According to industry experts, “the flaws in the current system will be difficult to fix as long as companies see food safety as an expense that cuts into profits.”
From the American Association for Justice news release.