New evidence indicates that an Ohio Dole vegetable processing plant was aware that its products were contaminated with listeria since 2014, and continued shipping vegetables, anyway.
The facility first found listeria on surfaces in July 2014, and responded with its standard protocol of cleaning and sanitization. Follow-up tests, however, came up positive for listeria bacteria in September through December of 2015, when an outbreak linked to the facility hospitalized 33 people and killed four, according to Consumerist.
The facility has reopened and is currently set to begin shipping salad again for Dole. The company has said that it has corrected the facility to meet food safety standards, but has not yet issued answers to those questioning how the listeria was removed. Rosa DeLauro, chair of the subcommittee that funds and oversees the FDA, said that the company needs to provide an explanation for how they allegedly removed the contamination.
"The Dole facility in question has said that they have taken corrective actions, but we need specific answers as to what those actions are," said DeLauro. "If Dole’s actions are not sufficient to ensure food safety, then this facility must be shut down."
Listeria monocytogenes is a bacteria that can cause Listeriosis, an infection which can potentially be fatal. Listeriosis mainly affects children, the elderly, those with compromised immune systems, and pregnant women. Symptoms include headaches, fever, and muscle pain. While Listeriosis can be treated with antibiotics, often no treatment is needed if the exposure is from food, according to the Center for Disease Control.
David Plunkett, a senior food safety attorney for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said that Dole's actions regarding the plant were irresponsible.
"Dole’s failure to stop shipping products and clean up its plant before the outbreak showed a total disregard for its customers’ health," said Plunkett. "Moreover, its press releases afterwards in recalling the bagged salads showed more concern over the company’s public image than for the people who buy its products."
The CDC recommends that consumers wash fresh produce thoroughly with tap water and scrub firmer produce like melons and cucumbers, in order to prevent the spread of listeria bacteria. The CDC also recommends separating uncooked meat and poultry from other foods such as vegetables and cooked foods.