Almost one-third of the year is in the rearview mirror at the federal Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta and only two new multistate outbreaks of foodborne illnesses are on the books.
A dangerous outbreak of Listeriosis bubbled up out of Michigan late February involving Enoki mushrooms grown in South Korea. In its latest report on April 8, the CDC reported 36 confirmed cases in 17 states that involve 30 hospitalizations and four deaths.
As of March 19, the second outbreak involving the rare E.coli O103 had sickened 39 people in six states with two hospitalizations and no deaths. Clover sprouts are blamed for the second active outbreak of 2020.
The two foodborne illnesses outbreaks are small potatoes when compared to the COVID-19 outbreak that by April 15 infected 641,315, resulting in 28,386 deaths. By this point in a more typical year, CDC usually is working on a half dozen or more multistate foodborne outbreaks.
The Listeria pathogen is the more serious of those involved in the two foodborne outbreaks that the CDC is currently combatting. The four deaths currently represent a fatality rate of just more than 11 percent. It has not been uncommon for Listeria outbreaks in North America to reach as high as 20 to 40 percent.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and states including Michigan and California were successful in narrowing down the culprit to enoki mushrooms and connecting it to three companies, H&C Foods, Guan’s Mushrooms, and Sun Hong Foods, that recalled the Korean grown product from the marketplace.
CDC has a current warning out urging pregnant women, adults over 65 and others with a weakened immune system to avoid earing any enoki mushrooms imported from the Republic of Korea even if not part of the recalls.
Examples of people with weakened immune systems are those getting treatment for cancer or who are on dialysis.
Listeria can survive at refrigerated and freezing temperatures and can easily spread to other foods and food surfaces. Washing and sanitizing all food surfaces and containers is important for anyone who handled enoki mushrooms or any other food contaminated with Listeria.
CDC advises washing surfaces with hot, soapy water and washing containers in the dishwasher with hot soapy water. Food processors, restaurants and retailers who handled enoki mushrooms need to be extra vigilant in cleaning and sanitizing to avoid cross-contamination.
The Korean Ministry of Food and Drug Safety on March 18 reported finding Listeria monocytogenes in samples from two firms in Korea. Testing by Michigan and California identified the outbreak in enoki mushroom samples from the companies that announced recalls.
For the second recall, CDC warns against eating, serving or selling any sprouts from the Chicago Indoor Garden as they are “a known source of foodborne illness and outbreaks.”
Chicago Indoor Garden recalled various products with sprouts last March 12 including Red Clover 4-ounce clamshell; Red Clover 2-pound boxes, Sprout Sales 6-ounce clamshell; Mixed Greens 4-ounce clamshell; and Spring Salad 6-ounce clamshell.
CDC also warned children, older adults, pregnant women, and people with weakened immune systems not to consume raw or lightly cooked sprouts of any kind. Other examples of people with immune systems include those with diabetes, liver or kidney disease or HIV.AIDS.
The E. coli contaminated sprouts were first reported on Feb.26 and 25 additional people were added to the outbreak by March 19. There’s not been an update since.
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