By: Candess Zona-Mendola

At the heels of the largest frozen food recall in recent history, there is another recall heating up – Listeria and Sunflower seeds.  Like with frozen food, pantry items are also some of what we think would be the least likely culprits of food poisoning. I mean, they are pantry items. They should last a long time, right? Wrong! One thing we know for certain, is Listeria loves manufacturing plants. Want to know more about Listeria and its effects on people? Visit our link here to learn more.

Timeline of the Recalls

On May 3, 2016, Giant Eagle grocery initiated a voluntary recall on bulk sunflower seeds sold only in its northeast Ohio stores under the names of Giant Eagle and Market District. Giant Eagle contends that its supplier, SunOpta, informed them at the sunflower seeds had the potential to be contaminated with Listeria. At the time, the recall seemed to be an isolated event – only a few locations (Rocky River Giant Eagle, and the Solon, Portage Crossing and Strongsville Market District stores) were affected.

 

Later that day, Giant Eagle added more stores to the recall – Waterworks, Township of Pine, Shadyside and South Hills Village, Kingsdale, Grandview Yard, and Dublin Market District locations. It seemed that they had caught all of the potential issue products, and all would be fine. They told consumers that they could return the products for full refunds. The recalls seemed isolated to Ohio and Pittsburgh.

However, it was not until the following day, May 4, 2016, that SunOpta finally issued a recall of its own. They claimed that the recall was only for a limited number of products that had been produced at their Crookston, Minnesota facility between the dates of February 1, 2016 and February 19, 2016. The brands effected were Planters and Dakota’s Best. SunOpta was quick to note that the recall was only out of an abundance of caution and that no illnesses had yet been reported.

On this same day, May 3, 2016, another major manufacturer, Treehouse Foods, Inc. issued its own recall – but this recall was not for a limited number of products. Treehouse Foods, Inc. recalled almost 100 products whose brands include, but are not limited to: Southern Grove, Nature’s Harvest, Meijer, Roundy, Gold Emblem, and Great Value. This is only to name a few. Treehouse Foods, Inc., a food giant in its own right who operates over 24 manufacturing facilities across the United States and Canada, is a supplier for major retailers such as Walmart stores and Meijer stores.

Hickory Harvest Foods issued its recall, at the advice of SunOpta, as well, which firmly sated the fact that this recall was no longer only affecting a small bit of Ohio and Pittsburgh. Hickory Harvest Foods supplies retailers in most states. It appeared early on that the sunflower seed recall was indeed a nationwide blowout.

During this time and in the weeks leading after, other retailers began their own voluntary recalls.  It was easy to see that this was no isolated recall, but rather another enormous recall of products thought to be tainted with Listeria because their suppliers potentially contaminated the products. A very brief highlight of the companies who issued recalls, with their suppliers noted in parenthesis, in a mere three days, includes:

  • May 3, 2016 – Giant Eagle (SunOpta) for Market District, Planters, and Dakota’s Best brands.
  • May 3, 2016 – TreeHouse Foods, Inc. (Supplier) for Southern Grove, Nature’s Harvest, Best Choice, Amport, Naturally Select, Smart Sense, Nice, Gold Emblem, K&G, Roundy, Shurfine, Spartan, Meijer, Western Family, Signature Kitchen, Family Gourmet, Food Club, Great Value, Super Value, Publix, PCC, Our Family, Tops, Hyvee, Eating Right, and FoodHold brands.
  • May 4, 2016 – Hickory Harvest Foods (supplier currently unknown) for Hickory Harvest, IM Good, Sheetz, Raylicious, Liberty, Amish Farms, and Heinens brands.
  • May 4, 2016 – Kroger (supplier currently unknown) for Kroger, Jay–C, Dillons, Bakers, Gerbes, King Soopers, City Market, Fry’s, Ralphs, Food 4 Less, and Smith’s stores.
  • May 4, 2016 – Brown & Haley (supplier currently unknown) for Mountain Thins brand.
  • May 5, 2016 – Publix for its store brand Wheatberry Salad.
  • May 5, 2016 – Schulze and Burch Biscuit Co. (supplier currently unknown) for Millville brand.
  • May 5, 2016 – Creative Snacks Co. (SunOpta) for Creative Snacks Co., The Fresh Market, Plentiful Planet, and Publishers Clearing House brands.
  • May 5, 2016 – Dakota Style Foods, Inc. (SunOpta) for its own brand.

For more information about all of the companies, stores, and brands included in the various sunflower seeds recalls, please visit the Food and Drug Administration Recalls, Market Withdrawals, & Safety Alerts page here.

 

What is going on right now?

 

The good news is that no one has been identified as ill at this time by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Therefore, the eminent threat of illness appears to be just a threat at this time. It is important to note that a “recall” is much different than an “outbreak.” A recall is a collecting of “potentially” contaminated products in hopes that everything is caught before anyone falls ill. An outbreak, however, means that at least two people had to have gotten ill with Listeria confirmed to be linked to the recall and then reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

 

As of June 2, 2016, SunOpta reopened its plant in Crookston, Minnesota. According to Rik Jacobs, SunOpta’s President and CEO, “We are confident that through our work, in conjunction with external experts, we have identified and eliminated the root causes of the contamination and therefore resumed production of roasted sunflower kernel products at our facility in Crookston.” The company represents that the potential contamination was found and the plant was closed down on April 21, 2016. They further represent at this time that they have not only the tools to ensure the contamination is remedied, but that the recall should only affect a limited batch of products. They also claim that they have enhanced their testing procedures and that more rigorous checks will be done to ensure no further products get contaminated.