As SanGar Fresh Cut Produce in San Antonio enters a third week of being closed by order of the Texas Department of State Health, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has found more evidence of contamination in the processed celery and inside the plant.

SanGar’s products and/or facility have now been linked to 7 of 10 cases of Listeria, according to Texas health officials.  Four of those Listeria illnesses resulted in deaths.

The new findings confirm earlier findings by Texas.

The FDA Tuesday released the results of laboratory testing of processed finished product and the environmental samples taken from the SanGar plant from Oct. 14-15.

FDA said the results indicate the presence of Listeria monocytogenes, a bacterium that can cause severe illness, in processed celery and in multiple locations in the plant environment, including on food contact surfaces. 

The Listeria identified in FDA samples matches the DNA fingerprint of the clinical cases of listeriosis reported by the State of Texas. 

As part of its joint investigation with Texas state officials, the FDA also inspected the SanGar company’s premises and issued a summary of its findings to the firm on Oct. 26. 

Texas DSHS ordered SanGar to stop processing food on Oct. 20, 2010 and to recall all products shipped from the San Antonio plant since January. 

FDA is assisting in the investigation with Texas food safety officials in the review of corrective actions being taken by the company to eliminate the presence of Listeria monocytogenes at its facility. 

For its part, SanGar said its private laboratory test results were negative for Listeria.  Kenneth Sanquist Jr., SanGar’s president, claimed, “independent testing shows our produce to be absolutely safe.”

SanGar alleged that Texas officials might have contaminated its food products while collecting and transporting them to the state laboratory.  Texas officials say that did not happen.

SanGar officials have not commented on the FDA findings.

Texas ordered SanGar to close on Oct. 20 and recalled all the chopped celery from the facility going back to January 2010. SanGar was involved in institutional sales to schools, hospitals and restaurants.

Texas and FDA have now found Listeria at multiple locations inside the plant.  Once Listeria establishes “niches” inside a food processing plant, it can be difficult to eliminate.