The Texas Department of State Health Services ordered Sangar Fresh Cut Produce in San Antonio to stop processing food and recall all products shipped from the plant since January. The order was issued after laboratory tests of chopped celery from the plant indicated the presence of Listeria monocytogenes, a bacterium that can cause severe illness.
State law allows DSHS to issue such orders when conditions exist that pose "an immediate and serious threat to human life or health."
The recalled products primarily cut fresh produce in sealed packages were distributed to restaurants and institutional entities, such as hospitals and schools, and are not believed to be sold in grocery stores.
The testing was done as part of a DSHS investigation into 10 listeriosis cases, including five deaths, reported to the department over an eight-month period. Six of the 10 cases have been linked to chopped celery from the Sangar plant. The illnesses occurred in Bexar, Travis and Hidalgo counties. All of the illnesses were in people with serious underlying health problems.
Health officials said pinpointing a Listeria source is often difficult due to the small number of cases, the illness' long incubation period and difficulty collecting complete information about what people ate.
DSHS inspectors also found sanitation issues at the plant and believe the Listeria found in the chopped celery may have contaminated other food produced there. The department found a condensation leak above a food product area, soil on a preparation table and hand washing issues. DSHS food safety personnel are contacting distributors, restaurants and institutions believed to have received the recalled products to ensure they are taking appropriate action to protect consumers.
DSHS continues to investigate possible sources of contamination and where the products were distributed. Sangar's customers are advised to discard or return the products. Cooking the products is not recommended.
Symptoms of listeriosis can include fever, muscle aches, diarrhea and vomiting. People with these symptoms should consult a physician. Symptoms typically occur three to 70 days after exposure. The disease affects primarily older people, pregnant women, newborns and people with weakened immune systems.
The order prohibits the plant from reopening without DSHS approval.