Beware – California fruit contaminated with listeria

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If you’ve picked up fruit at Costco, Whole Foods or Walmart stores recently, even the organic kind, check the label carefully.  The Wawona Packing Co. announced it’s expanding a voluntary recall of its products.  The packing company is  recalling peaches, nectarines, plums and pluots that were packed at its Cutler, California, warehouses.  The fruit may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes, a bacterium that can cause listeriosis. This serious infection can give you temporary problems such as a high fever, abdominal pain and diarrhea, headaches, stiffness and nausea.
The initial recall covered specific lots of fruit packed from June 1 through July 12. The company expanded the recall “as a precautionary step” by five days, to fruit packaged through July 17, in large part because it has “yet to identify with scientific certainty the source” of the Listeria monocytogenes at the packaging facility.  It’s a national voluntary recall because “we do not know the locations of the companies or stores that received the products from our direct customers,” according to a company statement. The company’s testing initiated the recall; scientists found the bacterium on a peach and on two nectarines.  Since the recall, no other products have been packed at the Cutler facility. The facility will stay closed until the source of the contamination has been determined. Wawona said it has brought in experts to help with the investigation, and the company is working closely with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.  If you do have the fruit in your fridge, look for a sticker that reads, “Sweet2Eat.” The fruit may also be labeled Mrs. Smittcamp’s or “Sweet2Eat Organic.” Throw out the potentially contaminated fruit or take it back to the store for a refund.  Whole Foods also recalled some of their made-in-store products that may have been prepared with the fruit. The store recall involved salsas, tarts, prepared salad and cakes.
For people with compromised immune systems, listeriosis could be a fatal infection. Children and the elderly are particularly vulnerable to severe reactions to the bacterium, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  It can also cause miscarriages and stillbirths for women who are pregnant.  If you have eaten one of these products, see your doctor immediately.  So far, no one has reported getting sick from the fruit.  Generally the CDC estimates about 260 deaths and 1,600 people get sick after eating food contaminated with listeriosis.  The largest exposure to listeriosis happened in 2011 when people ate cantaloupes contaminated with the bacterium from a farm in Colorado. Nearly three dozen people died after eating the fruit, and an additional 147 people got sick. With that exception, outbreaks have been on the decline since 2001, according to the CDC.  Click here for the entire recall list
What you need to know about food poisoning
The store
We know from prior studies that young children can be exposed to raw meat and poultry products while riding in shopping carts, particularly if they ride in the basket of the cart.  Researchers suggest that parents keep their child away from these products, which could be leaking juices carrying bacteria, by placing their child in the cart’s seat, and not place meat or poultry products in the seat while shopping to avoid contamination.
All consumers can benefit from separating their raw meat, poultry and seafood purchases from other food products to prevent cross-contamination.  The USDA recommends placing these types of foods in plastic bags and also placing these purchases in separate shopping bags at checkout.
Packaging meat products in leak-proof containers would also help cut cross-contamination.  When you get home, storing raw meats in a plastic bag or container to prevent any juices from dripping on other foods is also important.  Listeria monocytogenes, another type of illness-causing bacteria, can grow in foods in the refrigerator, according to the CDC. Use an appliance thermometer to check the temperature inside the fridge; it should be 40 degrees or lower, and the freezer should be 0 degrees or lower.
Food preparation
Start cooking with clean hands.  Wash with soap and water for 20 seconds (sing “Happy Birthday” twice) before and after handling food — and after other activities, such as changing diapers or using the bathroom.
Ideally, use separate cutting boards for fruits and vegetables and raw meat to avoid cross-contamination.  Wash fruits and vegetables under running water. Scrubbing melons and cucumbers with a clean brush is recommended; using soap to clean them is not.  Some home cooks wash their meat under running water before cooking, but, experts say, that can spread contaminated juices in places that may not be visible.
Use hot, soapy water to clean utensils and cutting boards after preparing foods; use hot, soapy water and paper towels or clean towels to clean work surfaces.  Proper cooking is essential for meat, poultry and seafood. Cooking temperatures have to reach a certain temperature to destroy bacteria such as E. Coli and Salmonella.
Storing leftovers
Harmful bacteria can start growing at room temperature, so any leftovers should go into the fridge or freezer within two hours of cooking.

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