(UPDATED COVERAGE, Nov. 13, 2014) Federal officials are warning retailers and restaurant operators who received products from a Chicago sprout grower to clean and disinfect their facilities because of a deadly listeria outbreak linked to Wholesome Soy Products Inc.
The company shut down operations Nov. 7, according to the Food and Drug Administration, which has been investigating the facility since Aug. 12. Neither the FDA not the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention went public with information about the outbreak until the CDC posted a report Nov. 7.
In that report, CDC officials said at least five people became ill and had to be hospitalized — two of them died — with listeria infections from “highly” similar strains of the pathogen found during a routine FDA sampling of sprouts and spent sprout water as part of a routine inspection that began Aug. 12.
The company stopped and restarted production of sprouts since the investigation began, ultimately shutting down all operations.
Illinois officials are now working to “embargo” products from Wholesome Soy Products, according to FDA and CDC officials.
“Illinois Department of Public Health is working to embargo all product at Wholesome Soy Products Inc. and the other wholesalers that presently have product,” according to the CDC report.
“In addition, IDPH has asked local health departments to contact facilities in their jurisdictions that have received the product to have the facilities either hold the product or destroy per the CDC recommendations.”
The illness onset dates ranged from June through August in Illinois and Michigan, according to the CDC report.
The company issued a recall Aug. 28 for its fresh mung bean sprouts in the midst of FDA’s first investigation, which ran from Aug. 13 to Sept. 3, according to the CDC. That investigation returned positive results for listeria monocytogenes from 25 environmental swab samples from the growing operation.
The FDA did not post a recall “news release” regarding the Wholesome Soy Products recall because the company did not provide the agency with one, said FDA spokesman Doug Karas on Nov. 13. The agency posted a report on its website Nov. 10.
Wholesome stopped production of mung bean sprouts Aug. 28. It resumed production Sept. 15 after listeria monocytogenes was not identified in finished product, according to the FDA report.
After its initial inspection, FDA sent Wholesome a letter with 12 “inspectional observations,” citing the company for numerous unsanitary conditions and poor equipment maintenance, according to the FDA report.
Upon returning to the Wholesome growing facility in October, FDA officials again found unsanitary conditions. FDA’s re-inspection from Oct. 7 through Oct. 31 resulted in another letter being issued to the company. It also cited a dozen problems, nine of which “had persisted from the previous inspection,” the CDC said.
On Oct. 14, Wholesome Soy Products stopped production of some of its products, which include tofu and other processed foods. The company continued producing mung bean and soy bean sprouts at that time, according to the CDC.
“Although limited information is available about the specific sprout products that the ill people consumed, the whole genome sequencing findings, together with the sprout consumption history of two patients and inspection findings at the firm, suggest that these illnesses could be related to products from Wholesome Soy Products Inc.,” according to the CDC report.