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Closed SanGar Turns to Independent Lab

After third-party audits turned out to be embarrassments for Peanut Corporation of America and Wright County Egg, the independent inspection industry must be hoping the “third strike” won’t come at a now closed Texas produce plant.

SanGar Produce & Processing Co. has its independent lab retesting the San Antonio produce processing facility that Texas health officials closed on Oct. 20 after connecting it with a deadly outbreak of Listeria.

The Washington Post Friday published an article examining what many see as the shortcomings of third party audits and use of independent laboratories by the food industry.

“With food-borne illness and recalls rising, the use of private inspectors has grown rapidly in the past decade as companies try to protect themselves from lawsuits and tainted products that can damage their brand names, ” the Washington Post reported. “But experts agree that the inspections often do not translate into safer products for consumers.”

SanGar attorney Jason Galvan Friday said Texas health officials had no proof linking six Listeria cases, including four deaths, to the facility.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is also conducting tests inside SanGar Produce, which might shed light on whether Listeria has found any niches inside the facility.  

 

Texas both closed the plant and ordered a recall of all produce from the facility produced since January.

Listeria has a lengthy incubation period.  An elderly Hidalgo County man who became ill in January and died in April is believed to be one victim of the Listeria outbreak.  Health officials have not released his name.

Celery is linking at least some of the illnesses.  The recall is for all SanGar cut fresh produce in sealed packages.  It was sold in sealed packages to school, restaurants, hospitals and other institutions.  It does not appear that there were any sales at the retail grocery store level.

SanGar processes celery grown in California.  Listeria contamination does not appear to be a problem before the celery got to Texas.  

SanGar declined to voluntarily cease production and initiate the recall.  On authority granted to it under state law where there is an “immediate and serious threat to human life,” Texas Health issued the orders.

One problem Texas officials found inside the facility was a condensation leak over the food-production area. 

The deaths of elderly Texans in the current outbreak is similar to Canada’s experience two years ago when a slow-moving Listeria outbreak eventually resulted in 22 deaths, of mostly elderly consumers.  In that case, the Listeria came from a ready-to-eat meats plant in Toronto.

© Food Safety News
  • Jess C. Rajan, Ph.D.

    Presently, there seems to be a lack of consistent regulatory standards, procedures and credible Quality Assurance (QA) oversight of sampling/testing of food products for the presence of microbiological and/or chemical contaminants.
    In certain instances, the use of a private laboratory “accredited” or “recognized” by a regulatory agency may be seen as an option. However, such regulatory agency accreditation/recognition programs also lack credibility because they fail to follow the required regulatory QA standards and procedures. As noted in the October 2010 FSIS Directory, laboratories [e.g. 564, 3974, 3978, 4082, 5179, and 5580] are being allowed to remain in the regulatory accreditation program after the expiration of their accreditations — inconsistent with the 7 USC and 9 CFR requirements.
    http://www.fsis.usda.gov/PDF/alp_current.pdf
    The same agency office also manages a Salmonella Recognized Laboratory Program and a Trichinella Accredited Laboratory Program for private laboratories using unpublished informal procedures. Without relevant published information and transparency, there would be no assurances about the quality and reliability of test results from such accredited/recognized laboratories.
    For split sampling [21 USC, Section 702 (b)] and independent testing of products for verification of compliance with requirements, the concerned parties may need to follow comparable, transparent procedures and have credible QA oversight.