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Consumer Reports Recovers Listeria in Two Percent of Produce Sampled


Consumer Reports tested 284 samples of fresh greens including lettuce, spinach and kale at store level. Two percent of the samples yielded Listeria monocytogenes. One strain was apparently similar to an outbreak strain following whole genome sequencing. Both branded and unbagged generic produce yielded Listeria. Following the survey, FDA inspected the plant producing one of the positive samples to determine the extent and distribution of Listeria infection.

It is considered significant that two positive samples were from bagged products bearing a label notation of “triple washed” indicating that a common mitigation procedure to eliminate Listeria is ineffective. Findings have obviously alarmed the Food Marketing Institute. Their Senior Vice President of Food Safety Programs, Hilary Thesmar correctly noted that the entire supply chain has a joint responsibility to provide produce free of pathogens or toxins.

According to the CDC between 1998 and 2016 contaminated produce resulted in between 30 to 60 foodborne outbreaks annually and green vegetables are responsible for between 20 and 40 percent of all cases of listeriosis.

There is currently no absolutely effective method of eliminating Listeria from produce despite attempts to develop wash solutions. Other than by temperature treatment which is impractical for produce, electron beam treatment may be the only potential modality to eliminate infection with Listeria for which there is a zero tolerance.