The Hungarian frozen vegetable factory believed to be the source of a Listeria outbreak that sickened 54 people in six countries, killing 10 of them, is set to restart production.
Following shutdown and cleaning, all tests at the Baja production site were negative for the presence of Listeria monocytogenes, according to a statement from Greenyard Frozen, which is part of the multinational Greenyard Group.
The follow-up tests were performed by the company with external experts including Campden BRI and confirmed by the Hungarian authorities’ own analysis.
Greenyard did not give a restart date but said it would be in the short term with more information being released in coming weeks. Company officials previously said they decided to stop production to do an in-depth review and would not restart or release the freezing lines until they found and eliminated the root cause of the Listeria contamination.
Illnesses were reported in Austria, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and Australia. Implicated frozen products were distributed to 116 countries and have a long shelf-life (some until mid-2020).
In late June, the Hungarian Food Chain Safety Office (NEBIH) banned the marketing of certain frozen products made by the plant between Aug. 13, 2016, and June 20, 2018, and ordered a product withdrawal and recall.
The factory had been under increased official control since March this year and no frozen vegetables from the 2018 production season were distributed.
Greenyard revealed its restart plans in a trading update where it revised its fiscal year (AY) 2018-2019 profitability guidance.
The firm previously estimated cost of the recall at $35 million (€30 million). Company officials said the figure 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.
Hein Deprez, Greenyard’s CEO, said the recall and related costs will negatively impact financials for AY 2018-2019.
“Despite only a slight decrease in sales, this quarter was marked by longer than expected pricing pressure and competition in our markets, unforeseen factors such as the recall for the potential Listeria contamination and the exceptional weather circumstances,” he said.
“Based on new forecasts…we revise our profitability guidance for AY 2018-2019, well below last year’s profitability, and have implemented action plans to restore profitability going forward. Moreover and in view of deleveraging Greenyard’s balance sheet, the Board of Directors has requested management to review the strategic options of its business portfolio.”
The company forecasted that underlying full year recurring earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (REBITDA) will be about 25 percent below last year’s profitability, instead of reaching a 10 percent REBITDA growth versus last year.
The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) said the outbreak is thought to have started in 2015. Initially, the suspected food source was limited to frozen corn but further investigations expanded this to include other frozen vegetables.
Listeria monocytogenes IVb sequence type (ST) 6 that matched the outbreak strain from victims was isolated from frozen spinach and frozen green beans sampled at Greenyard’s Baja facility. It was also isolated in a sample from a floor drain at the packaging area confirming environmental contamination of the processing plant.
The same strains of Listeria monocytogenes were detected in frozen vegetables produced by the company in 2016, 2017 and 2018.
Listeriosis is an infection caused by Listeria monocytogenes bacteria. New cases may be identified due to the long incubation period, which is up to 70 days, the long shelf life of frozen vegetables, and possible future consumption of implicated product bought before the recall.
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