Product Liability

Contaminated celery linked to four deaths in Texas

Health officials in Texas have ordered the closure of a food processing plant where celery contaminated with listeriosis bacteria is believed to have originated. Investigators from the Texas Department of State Health Services say that the celery has sickened at least six people in Texas, four of whom died.

Health officials also issued a recall of all the produce that has passed through a SanGar Produce & Processing plant in San Antonio since January after tests revealed six of the ten known listeriosis cases in Texas were identical to samples taken from the plant. The other four cases remain under investigation.

Listeriosis is a relatively rare bacterial infection caused by Listeria monocytogenes. Symptoms typically include fever, muscle aches, and vomiting with nausea and diarrhea sometimes reported. Listeriosis can become particularly deadly if it spreads to the nervous system and causes bacterial meningitis, an infection affecting the brain and spinal cord.

The contaminated celery was chopped in the SanGar plant and sold to hospitals, restaurants, and schools in Texas and Oklahoma only, but may have reached other areas via third-party distributors. Oklahoma health authorities are investigating whether any of residents of that state have been sickened by the celery. There are three known cases of listeriosis in Oklahoma.

Texas officials said in statement they believe the listeriosis contamination may have spread to other fruits and vegetables packaged on the same factory lines as the celery because they discovered “a condensation leak above a food product area, soil on a preparation table and hand-washing issues.” The San Antonio plant also processes lettuce, pineapple, and honeydew melons.

SanGar president Kenneth Sanquist Jr. said he believes that the state’s findings were wrong because independent tests contradicted the state’s findings. Mr. Sanquist said that his company would continue to “aggressively fight” the state’s conclusions.

Texas Department of State Health Services spokeswoman Carrie Williams said Thursday that the state asked the company to close voluntarily but it refused.

“They refused, so we shut them down and ordered a recall,” she said.