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Product Recall: Can You Safely Use Potentially Listeria Infected Veggies?


Image: Wikipedia

A major product recall involving 42 brands of frozen fruits and vegetables is underway over fears they may be potentially contaminated with Listeria.

The Centers for Disease Control says the recall by CRF Frozen Foods began in April and was expanded on Monday. The recall now includes all organic and traditional frozen vegetable and fruit products processed in the company’s Pasco facility since May 1, 2014.

More than 350 products like green beans, broccoli, peas and blueberries sold under 42 brands at grocers including Safeway, Costco and Trader Joe’s in the U.S. and Canada have now been recalled, according to the Washington Post. (source)

Listeria is a serious condition, especially for pregnant women and the elderly. It sickens hundreds of thousands of people each year and if severe enough can cause death. Approximately 300 deaths a year occur in the United States due to Listeriosis.

Listeria can continue to multiply even when food is refrigerated. Freezing stops the proliferation of the bugs but they are still present and can cause illness when the food is defrosted. Cross contamination can and often does occur when handling products contaminated with Listeria.

If the bugs are on the surface of vegetables then washing removes them, but if the Listeria is present in the soil, or in manure used on the soil then it will be present inside the vegetables and obviously can’t be washed off.

Pasteurisation kills Listeria. It’s a process where by foodstuffs, for example milk, is heated to a minimum temperature of 145ºF for 30 minutes. (62.8ºC) There are different types of pasteurisation, you can see the chart here. Some involve shorter times at higher temperatures but mass produced milk pasteurisation, where the process is carried out in large vats uses the time and temperature quoted.

The difference between milk and veggies is obvious, one is liquid and one is solid. It’s this difference intensity that makes pasteurizing food more problematic. to be full pasteurized and safe to eat the internal temperature of the food would have to reach 145ºF for 30 minutes, or a higher temperature for a shorter time, such as 166ºF (74.4ºC) for 15 seconds. There is in my opinion no safe way to do this in a home kitchen.

The only way to make potentially contaminated veggies safe to eat is to boil them until they are throughly cooked all the way through, and if you like you veggies with a bit of ‘bite’ to them, forget it, you couldn’t be sure that the temperature had gotten high enough.Boil the veggies until they are getting towards soggy (ew) and then puree them whilst they are still very hot. Return the pan to the stove and bring to the boil. This will have killed any Listeria present.

This puree is safe to freeze once cool, and can be added to soups stews and casseroles as required. It will thicken them nicely and although many micronutrients don’t survive such a harsh cooking process there is still far more nutritional value, and far fewer additives in the vegetable thickening than in store brought thickening agents.

It stands to reason that if you suspect Listeria is even potentially present that hand hygiene needs to be scrupulous and all counter tops or anything else that has come into contact with the suspect food be cleaned throughly after use.

This article in no way constitutes advice on eating potentially contaminated food, but times are hard and some people may go ahead and do so anyway…I would prefer if they did so as safely as possible and it’s scientifically proven that boiling kills Listeria.

What would I do?

Dump it.

Take Care