Texas health officials announced that they have shut down a food processing plant in San Antonio after it was linked to a bacteria contamination that took the lives of four people.
The Texas Department of State Health Services ordered Sangar Produce and Processing to immediately cease food processing on Wednesday and recall all products that have shipped from its San Antonio plant since January. The results of state laboratory testing showed that the bacteria Listeria Monocytogenes was found in chopped celery at the plant. Four people that have died from Listeriosis have been linked to consuming celery from the Sangar plant according to department spokeswoman Carrie Williams.
Authorities launched an investigation when ten people who had serious health problems contracted Listeriosis over an eight month time span. Of those, six were linked to celery from the Sangar plant. Four of the victims have died.
Sangar is denying that it had any wrongdoing in the situation. Sangar President, Kenneth Sanquist, stated that the company has an excellent health and safety record for the past three years and that outside testing done contradicts the state’s conclusion. Sanquist says the company is aggressively fighting the error.
Health inspectors believe it possible that the bacteria contaminated other products in the plant. Sangar processes items such as lettuce, peppers, carrots, cucumbers, cut up fruit, salad, fruit and soup mix. The products are typically distributed to schools, hospitals, restaurants and other large places that serve food.
Inspectors found more than bacteria upon inspecting the plant. They also discovered condensation leak above a food product area, dirt on a food preparation table and hand washing problems. The state is currently contacting any distributors and those places that may have received the products from Sangar.
Listeria Monocytogenes is a bacteria often found in soil, water and animals according to the CDC. It can get into vegetables through the soil or manure that is used and is a resilient bacteria. It is tied to Listeriosis, which infects 2500 Americans and contributes to 500 deaths each year by CDC reports. Those who have a weakened immune system are at highest risk and pregnant women contract the illness 20 times more than anyone else.
The Texas Health Department is heading the investigation with some help from the FDA and CDC. They justified the closure of the plant with a Texas law that authorizes such a closure in the event conditions poses an immediate threat to human life and health.
The plant is prohibited from reopening without approval. Williams says the state will work on guidelines with the company that must be met before they can reopen.