By: Candess Zona-Mendola

Frozen produce consumers in North America had their world jostled this week. A massive frozen food recall by CRF Frozen Foods, LLC has even the most organic household concerned that they may have purchased a compromised food product. What started out as a seemingly small recall of about fifteen products, has exploded into an outbreak encompassing 358 products of 42 known brands in major retail stores. Every state in the United States and Canada has been put on alert to the recall. As I am sure you are as concerned for your family as I am, here is everything you need to know about this recall, listeria, how to protect your family, and tips on what to do if you think you have consumed a listeria-compromised product.

From Recall to Outbreak

Commencing in March of 2016, the CDC, FDA, and other public health officials in several states conducted routine inspections on CRF Frozen Foods, LLC products. As a result of these investigations, CRF Frozen Foods, LLC issued a voluntary recall of some of its products – stating that they had a potential to be compromised with listeria in late April of 2016. The initial recall was relatively moderate and mainly focused on organic frozen vegetables – green beans, peas, and corn. CRF Frozen Foods, LLC announced that it suspended all productivity to its Pasco, Washington plant, the location at issue, on April 25, 2016 pending a further inspection and review by governmental authorities.

Less than a week later, on May 2, 2016, CRF Frozen Foods, LLC expanded its recall – to include the 358 products mentioned above. The recalled products, which now are both fruit and vegetables, traditional and organic, include: broccoli, butternut squash, carrots, cauliflower, corn, edamame, green beans, Italian beans, kale, leeks, lima beans, onions, peas, pepper strips, potatoes, potato medley, root medley, spinach, sweet potatoes, various vegetable medleys, blends, and stir fry packages, blueberries, cherries, cranberries, peaches, raspberries, and strawberries. Over 42 brands are subject to the recall. Walmart and Costco’s private brands included. There are also other well-known and popular brands, including: Panda Express, Trader Joe’s, Safeway, Bybee’s, Columbia River Organics, Organic by Nature, Live Smart, Parade, and O Organic to name a few. What was a moderate recall turned into a massive overhaul that spans all fifty states and Canadian provinces of British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba, Saskatchewan – leaving many people to be dumbfounded at how many retailers and brands use the same third-party producer to obtain and package their frozen produce. All of the affected products bear sell by dates between April 26, 2016 and April 26, 2018.

Meanwhile, the CDC has notified all retailers of the verified outbreak and announced that eight people have been hospitalized as a result of contracting listeria. Two people have also died – purportedly from caused not related to the outbreak. The CDC utilized sophisticated recording measures and laboratory testing to conclude that several people have fallen ill with the same strain of listeria – one as early as September of 2013. In essence, the CDC has utilized scientific techniques of pulsed-field gel electrophoresis and whole genome sequencing to map the complete genome of the bacteria subject to this outbreak, and has compared it to each of the known individuals who have become ill. This revolutionizing technique, partnered with a nationwide database, is what allowed the CDC, FDA, and local state agencies the ability to piece together that something may be wrong with CRF Frozen Foods, LLC’s Pasco, Washington plant.

Consumers have become outraged that the recall was wrongly delayed and is coming too late. CRF Frozen Foods, LLC nonchalantly mentions in its recall notification that its Pasco, Washington plant may have been contaminated as early as May 1, 2014. CRF Frozen Foods, LLC maintains that the recall is merely out of an abundance of caution, however, it is hard to ignore the magnitude of products subject to the recall. If you want to learn more about the recall specifically or check the items subject to the recall, visit the FDA’s notification page here.

Listeria – A small name for a scary bacteria

Now that you know what’s going on, let’s talk about what really is of concern – what is listeria and how can I protect my loved ones against contracting it.

In a nutshell, listeria is a hardy bacteria that could lead to severe illness. Primarily, the elderly, small children, and people with compromised immune systems are warned that bacteria like listeria could lead to severe symptoms and illness. Listeria is also dangerous to pregnant women, and could lead to fetal complications, miscarriage, and still births. Most healthy people may have symptoms including headache, fever, abdominal pain, nausea, weakness, muscle pain, and diarrhea. However, despite this, listeria can also be deadly. It is important to seek medical attention if you believe you have potential ingested a contaminated product and are exhibiting any of the above symptoms. A physician may need to order urine or a stool laboratory tests to determine if listeria was indeed contracted.

What Do I Do Now?

All of the scary stuff aside, you still have a way to protect your family and yourself from contracting listeria as it relates to this outbreak. Below are some handy tips to help you through the process:

  1. First and foremost, raid your freezer. Visit the FDA cite here, and find out if you even need to be worried. The most concerning factor of the outbreak at hand is that it is a long time coming. You may have already purchased these products over a year ago and still have them in your freezer because of their long shelf life. When in doubt, double check.
  2. Refrain from consumption. If you have found products that match (or you believe match) those mentioned by the FDA, do not eat them! Do not eat them even if you have already eaten from the bag or if they look perfectly safe. Just trust me on this one. Even a little bit of listeria can cause illness.
  3. Be on the lookout. If you or anyone you love is exhibiting signs or symptoms of a listeria infection, it is encouraged to seek medical attention. It is good to maintain vigilance for a while, as these symptoms can manifest from a few days to up to two months.
  4. Wash everything. Wash the kitchen’s food preparation areas. Wash your hands. Sanitize your dishes. If you are as paranoid as I am, even wash out your freezer. As previously noted, listeria is a hardy bacteria, which means it is prone to staying for long periods of time.
  5. Spread the word. Let your friends, coworkers, neighbors, family, even your mailman know about this outbreak. The more people who know, the easier it is to ensure less people become stricken with infection. Retailers, such as Costco and Walmart, have posted notifications on their websites about the current recall. As they say, knowledge is power. Together, we can try to help others dodge infection.