Public Health

Texas Shuts Down Celery Plant After Five Deadly Listeria Cases Reported

celery stalk

Celery's the latest culprit in a foodborne illness outbreak in Texas. Marek Kolankiewicz/iStockphoto.com hide caption

itoggle caption Marek Kolankiewicz/iStockphoto.com

If contaminated eggs weren't enough, food safety advocates are hoping a small but deadly outbreak may tip the Senate towards passage of a bill next month.

The state of Texas yesterday shut down a San Antonio produce plant after lab tests found Listeria monocytogenes in packaged celery products sold to hospitals, restaurants and schools.

The investigation was launched after 10 people got sick and five of them died.

"We need legislation that prevents foodborne illness before it occurs, rather than chasing after illnesses after people have already gotten sick," says Erik Olson of the Pew Health Group.

Here he is in his own words:

Olson and others - from consumer groups to producers, have called for the Senate to pass the bill, which would increase inspections, amp up the FDA's recall authority, and give it new tools to detect illness before it gets too widespread.

But, the Senate's the Senate. It's famously a place where one senator can hold things up. However, the bill is moving forward, in the Senate's own creaky way.

We're sensing a growing trend here. Earlier this year, half a billion eggs were recalled. Last year it was contaminated peanuts. Before that it was spinach and lettuce. Now its celery.

In the Texas case, according to the Department of State Health Services, six of the 10 listeria cases have been linked to chopped celery from Sangar Fresh-Cut Produce. All of the illnesses were in people who already have serious health problems, and all of them in Texas so far, officials say.

The president of the company says it is fighting the state's findings, and that independent testing has shown that the products are safe, according to AP.

Listeria poisoning can cause fever, headache, nausea, and preterm labor, as well as death. Contaminated fresh fruits and vegetables, raw milk, and raw meats are frequent culprits, says the Food and Drug Administration.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that there are about 1,600 cases a year.

THIS JUST IN: FDA just announced a limited recall of cantaloupes from Arizona that may be contaminated with salmonella.

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