Elementary school students in cafeteria
Despite documented food safety violations, CRF Frozen Foods LLC was allowed to continue to operate, producing hundreds of frozen fruit and vegetable products packaged under dozens of brands. The Pasco, WA, company also produced food for the USDA-regulated school lunch program during that time.
The frozen food firm linked to an ongoing Listeria outbreak is a supplier for the federal school lunch program and had been operating with food safety violations since at least December 2014 — as documented by state and federal agencies. Operations continued at CRF Frozen Foods despite the violations. The company is subject to inspection by the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA), the WSDA organic division, the U.S. Department of Agriculture when food for school lunches is being processed, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the British Retail Consortium.
Recalled Simple Truth Organic frozen vegetables
This Simple Truth Organic frozen vegetable product is just one of more than 500 products now under recall for possible Listeria contamination.
Violations and observations documented by inspectors from WSDA and FDA, beginning in December 2014 and continuing through March of this year, included:

  • broken and cracked floors;
  • dirt, trash and food debris;
  • leaking pipes;
  • mold-like residues;
  • inoperable hand-washing stations;
  • multiple examples of broken and worn equipment and surfaces that were impossible to clean and sanitize;
  • external doors left open, allowing possible entry of rodents and other pests, and,
  • bathroom doors leading into a processing room left open, possibly exposing food to airborne pathogens.

FDA posted three reports this week from inspections of CRF’s Pasco, WA, production facility detailing the food safety violations. In one of the reports, from the most recent inspection done March 14-18 of this year, FDA inspectors included a discussion of complaints from 2009 and 2011 involving consumers finding dead rodents in bags of frozen vegetables. According to the inspection report, the company’s director of quality assurance, Emily Camp, told the inspectors those complaints pre-dated her tenure with CRF, but that she understood the firm had installed something to prevent “foreign materials from being integrated with product.”

Also subject to the recall are a variety of Natural Directions brand frozen vegetables.
Also subject to the recall are a variety of Natural Directions brand frozen vegetables.
During the March inspection, Camp and CRF president Jonathan Rodacy refused to provide inspectors with any company records, saying all documents were proprietary information. They also refused to allow inspectors to take photographs, according to FDA’s inspection report. A report by WSDA inspectors, who did a routine annual inspection for FDA in December 2014 and follow-up inspections in January and September 2015, included details about notification CRF officials received from one of its trading partners warning of Listeria contamination. “In March 2015 the firm was notified that one of their customers discovered a product that shipped to CRF Frozen Foods was contaminated with Listeria through internal testing,” state inspectors reported. “The entire shipment they received was still in-house (in September) at the firm. CRF Frozen Foods has segregated this product and tagged it and arrangements are being made to dispose of this product at the local landfill,” the report continued. The September 2015 follow-up inspection was necessary because, when inspectors checked in January of that year, they found the company had not corrected all of the violations documented in December 2014 when the facility received an inspection score of “critical.” Many of the problems cited in the December 2014 report persisted through the inspections in 2015. Some of them remained when FDA checked the facility in March of this year, but CRF was allowed to continue operating until company officials voluntarily suspended business after federal officials told them of the link between CRF products and the Listeria outbreak.
A variety of Kroger-branded frozen vegetable products are included in the recall.
A variety of Kroger-branded frozen vegetable products are included in the recall.
The ongoing outbreak and investigation Officials at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention might not have detected the outbreak had it not been for a random sampling program in Ohio. Samples collected at a retail earlier this year by the Ohio Department of Agriculture showed Listeria monocytogenes in True Goodness by Meijer branded frozen organic white sweet cut corn and frozen organic petite green peas, both produced by CRF Frozen Foods. The DNA fingerprints of the organic corn and peas matched Listeria monocytogenes strains already on file in CDC’s PulseNet database. Whole genome sequencing showed samples from seven listeriosis victims were closely related to the Listeria monocytogenes isolate from the frozen corn. The isolate from the peas was closely related to the isolate from a sample from one ill person. CDC scientists say “closely related” pathogen isolates equate to identical twins in human terms. The basic tenants of science make them reluctant to say anything is an absolute match. The eight people sickened from three states all required hospitalization. Two of the victims died, but state health officials did not specifically attribute the deaths to Listeria. Additional victims could be identified, according to the most recent update from CDC posted May 3. CRF suspended operations April 25 after issuing an initial recall of 11 of its products two days earlier. On May 2, the company expanded the recall to more than 350 products under more than 40 brands. Combined with secondary recalls by its customers, more than 500 products from the Pasco processing plant are now under recall. Public health officials are concerned people may still have the recalled food in their home freezers because the best-by dates extend through 2018. Also, it can take up to 70 days for listeriosis symptoms to develop after exposure to the pathogen. Although healthy individuals may suffer only short-term symptoms such as high fever, severe headaches, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea, Listeria infection can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. It can also cause miscarriages and stillbirths among pregnant women. (To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)