The U.S. and Canada are among more than 100 countries potentially affected by a recall of frozen vegetables due to Listeria monocytogenes. An outbreak traced to the vegetables from Greenyard Frozen has sickened 47 people in five European countries. Nine people have died.

Greenyard, a producer of fresh, frozen and prepared fruits and vegetables linked to the outbreak, has estimated the cost of the recall at $35 million (€30 million). Company officials said that includes costs for the product, transportation, handling, storage, destruction, subcontracting, lower cost absorption of the factory, and loss of margin. The company is insured for recall costs and possible product liability damages. 

Due to the scale of the situation, the European Commission and the International Food Safety Authorities Network (INFOSAN), which is managed by the Food and Agriculture Organization and World Health Organization, are involved.

A spokesman for INFOSAN said 107 countries and territories received implicated products. 

“Some countries have re-exported some of the products imported to other countries. Some have received and reprocessed original products into other products under different brands. All this is contributing to making the traceability and recalls more complex,” he told Food Safety News.

“The genetic sequence of the Listeria strain involved has also been shared with members of the network to facilitate the investigation of listeriosis cases detected in individual countries and see if they can be linked or not to this outbreak by comparing their genetic sequences with the outbreak strain.”

Frozen items subject to recall were produced in Greenyard’s Hungarian facility in Baja between Aug. 13, 2016, and June 20, 2018.

Eighteen cases have been reported this year, with the most recent person becoming sick in May. The outbreak is believed to have begun in 2015. It can take up to 70 days after exposure to the bacteria for symptoms of infection to develop.

In recent days Australian authorities said they had identified a fatal Listeria infection in their country linked to the outbreak in Europe. However, because the person died, public health officials cannot confirm whether the victim ate the implicated frozen vegetables before becoming ill.

Listeria monocytogenes IVb sequence type (ST) 6 that matches the outbreak strain from victims was isolated from frozen spinach and frozen green beans sampled at the facility. It was also isolated in a sample from a floor drain at the packaging area confirming the environmental contamination of the Hungarian processing plant.

“We have closed our plant in Hungary and have been conducting an in-depth review of the plant with a view to identifying the root cause of the contamination in full cooperation with the respective authorities and in dialogue with the customer,” according to a statement from Greenyard officials.

“We will not restart production in our Hungarian facility until we are fully satisfied with the results of these tests, for which we are working in continuous cooperation and consultation with the local authorities, and following the European guidelines.”

The company also said it is sourcing alternative supplies in cooperation with customers.

Some of the other countries that recalled products were sent to are: Afghanistan, Angola, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Belgium, Chad, Egypt, France, Georgia,Germany, Ghana, Gibraltar, Greece, Hong Kong, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, Maldives, Mali, Malta, Mauritius, Netherlands, Nigeria, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Singapore, Spain, Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates.

The recall does not imply products are contaminated, according to officials. Affected retailers include Woolworths, Aldi, IGA, Auchan, Carrefour, Intermarché, Colruyt, Delhaize, Waitrose, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Lidl and Iceland.

Greenyard advised consumers to cook frozen products until they reach 70 degrees C and to continue to cook them at that temperature for at least two minutes.

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