The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are investigating a multistate outbreak of listeria monocytogenes infections connected to Fresh Express salads, the agency announced on Dec. 21.
Listeria monocytogenes is a food-borne illness that can cause short-term symptoms like high fever, severe headache, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain, and diarrhea, as per the CDC.
While it is generally rare and causes a mild infection in healthy individuals, it primarily affects young children, the elderly, or those with weakened immune systems, as well as pregnant women.
In pregnant women, it can potentially cause serious problems such as miscarriages and stillbirths and cause severe disease in the fetus or newborn baby. In adults aged 65 and older and those with weakened immune systems, listeria monocytogenes can in some cases cause severe infections in the bloodstream, such as sepsis, or in the brain, which can cause meningitis or encephalitis.
An estimated 1,600 people get listeriosis each year, of which roughly 260 die from the illness.
“To date, a positive sample of Fresh Express Sweet Hearts salad mix has been reported to match the outbreak strain,” the FDA said. “Fresh Express has voluntarily recalled products and consumers are advised not to eat, sell or serve any recalled products. Our investigation is ongoing, and we will continue to communicate should additional products be implicated.”
In a separate release, Fresh Express said it was recalling certain varieties of its branded and private label salad products produced at the company’s Streamwood, Illinois facility due to possible contamination.
It follows the Michigan Department of Agriculture receiving a positive result for listeria monocytogenes in a random sample test of a single package of Fresh Express 9 oz. Sweet Hearts salad mix with a use-by date of Dec. 8, 2021, which was manufactured at the facility.
Ten people have fallen ill, 10 have been hospitalized, and one person died due to the strain of listeria monocytogenes detected in the random sample as far back as July 26, 2016, with the latest illness reported on Oct. 19, 2021, the FDA said.
The illness has spanned across multiple states including Virginia, New York, Ohio, Illinois, and Pennsylvania, among others.
The recalled salad items were distributed through retailers in the Northeast and Midwest regions of the United States, as well as distributors and retailers in Canada, in the provinces of Ontario and Manitoba.
Fresh Express advised consumers not to eat, sell, or serve a long list of its products with the codes Z324 through to Z350 printed on the package. Consumers who have symptoms of listeriosis infection are being urged to contact their health care provider.
None of the company’s other products are being recalled.
“Fresh Express immediately halted all production at the Streamwood facility and initiated a complete sanitation review,” the company said. “Fresh Express has already been in contact with retailers who received the recalled items, instructing them to remove them from store shelves and stop any further shipments to stores from distribution centers and other inventories.”
The FDA said it will continue working with the CDC and Fresh Express to determine the source of the outbreak and will provide updates.