By: Pooja Sharma

A former Pasco vegetable plant, previously owned by CRF Foods will reopen this Spring under a new name and a new ownership. This new opening follows the largest ever food recall over Listeria concerns that led to the plant’s shutdown. In 2016, more than 350 consumer products sold under 42 different brands were recalled. More than 100 other products were recalled too that contained the recalled ingredients from the CRF Frozen Foods.

What do we know about the new facility?

The food processing facility is located at 1825 N. Commercial Avenue and previously came under the CRF Frozen Foods. But now, a new joint venture between J.R. Simplot and CRF’s parent company R.D. Offutt are planning a new overhaul and expansion of this facility. Even though J.R. Simplot is taking over the CRF’s building, it did not buy the company during the 25-acre property sale. This planned overhaul and expansion between Simplot and Offutt will most likely be completed till the spring of 2018. The new name given to the company will be Simplot RDO.

Simplot is one of the largest owned private companies in the world. The company’s expansion began by serving dehydrated onions and potatoes during the World War II. Simplot made billions by commercializing the frozen french fries and eventually becoming the primary supplier of french fries to McDonalds by 1970s. Simplot also developed genetically modified Innate potato which is approved by both FDA and USDA. It is resistant to bruising, browning, and has less asparagine (that can turn into acrylamide during frying, a possible human carcinogen). Apart from being involved in food processing, Simplot also runs a large number of farming and ranching operations in Northwest and Nevada.

R.D. Offutt Company, Simplot’s partner in the project is basically based in Fargo, North Dakota. Its farming operations are based mainly on the potatoes. At one point of time in the 1990’s, Offutt was producing more potatoes than anyone else in the world (including its partner in the operation, Simplot). The next largest producer of potatoes was about one third the size of Offutt. It was the parent company of CRF Frozen foods until it was shut down in 2016.

Here’s how the company is planning on avoiding the future contamination in the facility:

The company is working towards significant remodeling and rebuilding. The complete makeover includes refitting the factory with the latest in the sanitation methods and processes that are currently used in other food processing facilities. This would help in ensuring the maximum levels of food safety. The collaboration is also in frequent talks with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to make sure that the facility meets and exceeds the highest level of food safety requirements.

The passersby on the highway can see the busy bees working on the former home of CRF, just west of the Pasco-Kahlotus highway. The building is fully remodeled, redone and expanded to over 100,000 square feet in order to provide enough space for day to day processing and distribution of local crops such as corns and peas. The expansion that covers a total area of 25,000 square foot is valued at around $2.48 million dollars.

Josh Jordan, J.R. Simplot spokesman said that the facility will include state-of-the-art updates to help process an increased demand for raw products. He further mentioned the company chose the location due to the import and export facilities in the area as well as the growing population and the trained workforce present in the Franklin County. Once the facility becomes fully operational, it will employ a total of 150 full-time workers. Seasonal fluctuations can shoot up the payroll to around 275 workers at certain points of the year.

The 2016 ‘biggest’ ever recall

The Listeria outbreak caused by CRF Frozen Foods was identified in March of 2016 even though the first illness was reported in 2013. Three of the illnesses were reported in 2016 while the other 6 illnesses were reported from September 13, 2013 – May 3, 2016. Thanks to the recently developed whole-genome sequencing of food contaminating bacteria, CDC and FDA were able to find out the strain of bacteria found in the blood of a sickened person in 2013 was genetically similar to the Listeria responsible for the recall.

This system developed by FDA and CDC tracks the genetic makeup of Salmonella, Listeria, and E. coli. Once an outbreak linked to a foodborne pathogen is identified, they are able to match the DNA from contaminated food to the strain of bacteria making people sick. This system helped in identifying that the strain of Listeria that made people sick in 2013 was the same that sickened people in 2016.

On April 23, 2016, CRF recalled 11 frozen vegetable products. The recall was expanded to over 350 consumer products that included all the frozen fruits and vegetables that were processed at the Pasco, Washington facility. The products were also sold in Canada and Mexico.

What is Listeria?

Listeria is a foodborne bacterial illness that can be dangerous for children, pregnant women, elderly and those with an impaired immune system. Its most common sources are unpasteurized dairy and deli meat. People with mild symptoms require no treatment while those with serious infections might require antibiotics.

How does it get into facilities and wasn’t it supposed to be a meat and dairy thing and not a vegetable thing?

Listeria is also found in soil and water. Animals carry the bacteria in their intestines and can contaminate the soil or water with their feces. Animals with Listeria do not show any signs of infection. This can contaminate the food apart from the meat and dairy. If the animals infected feces comes in contact with any item on the processing facility, it can spread the contamination to other foods too. Keep in mind that Listeria has the ability to survive freezing and can live on for quite a few years.

Therefore, it is important for the new facility to clean out and sanitize all the equipment (if they are reusing any) to avoid any contamination in their future operations.