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Texas food plant tests positive for listeria

by nickj on November 4, 2010

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration found a closed produce plant in San Antonio, Texas on Wednesday to be the source of a deadly listeria outbreak, reports the LA Times.

The SanGar Produce & Processing Co. was shut down on October 20 by the Texas Department of State Health Services and ordered to recall all of the products shipped from the plant since January.

According to CNN, the plant had initially opposed the DSHS's results. However, Federal health officials confirmed yesterday that its laboratory tests had found traces of Listeria monocytogenes on celery produce as well as in areas of the plant's workplace.

The strain of listeria, which was found in packages of chopped celery, was linked to the sickening of 10 people, killing four over the past eight months.

The state has ordered a recall of all products – not just celery – shipped from the plant since January. The recall involves thousands of pounds of produce distributed to more than 300 customers, including restaurants, hospitals, school districts, military facilities and large wholesalers.

State officials said inspectors believe that the contamination made its way into other packaged produce, partly because they found a "condensation leak above a food product area, soil on a preparation table and hand-washing issues," according to the Times.

Listeria monocytogenes is a bacterium found in soil and contaminates meats and vegetables. It rarely causes serious illness in healthy people but can be deadly for those with weakened immune systems such as the elderly, the very young and pregnant women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention . All of the 10 infected people in Texas were elderly with underlying health problems, according to the Houston Chronicle.

SanGar officials tried to reopen the plant last week. However, before they would be allowed to open the state will require "a series of negative test results on food and environmental samples," Carrie Williams, a spokeswoman for the state health department, told the Chronicle.

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