Listeria Identified on Leafy Greens from Whole Foods and Costco

Consumer Reports recently reported on the discovery of listeria among leafy green vegetables from a handful of different grocery store chains across Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York.  Specifically, the organization cites samples of the contaminated leafy greens came from Acme, Costco, Hannaford, and Whole Foods stores, and sold between June 3 and June 19 of this year. 

In the report, the agency notes that out of 284 samples, 6 were noted to have been contaminated with listeria monocytogenes.  This also distills down to four cases found among bunches or loose heads and two more in prewashed and prepackaged salad mixes. 

Specifically, the products identified were: 

  • Acme (unbranded) loose red leaf lettuce
    • Costco Boskovich Farms “triple washed” bagged spinach
    • Hannaford (unbranded) loose leaf spinach
    • Whole Foods Lancaster Farm loose green kale
    • Whole Foods (unbranded) loose green leaf lettuce

Of the six tainted leafy green samples, one had had a strain of Listeria monocytogenes with a genetic link to at least two other cases of listeriosis previously reported to the CDC.  The product identified in that case was listed as “triple-washed” Nature’s Place Organic Spinach Spring Mix, which was purchased at Hannaford supermarket. Fortunately, Hannaford commented that no illnesses related to the incident have been reported. 

United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Enteric Diseases Epidemiology Branch medical officer Karen Wong, MD comments that it is not surprising to find listeria in packages of leafy green vegetables, particularly since it was such a small percentage. However, she also notes that it is always of great concern to find bacteria like this because these foods are intended to be eaten raw: cooking your foods to the appropriate temperature tends to kill off any potentially harmful contamination. 

Again, the sample size is not very big; in fact, it is not big enough for Consumer Reports to form any conclusions about overall product safety, particularly in regards to which brands or stores may be affected most.  Essentially, this analysis has prompted further investigation.

Listeria monocytogenes causes a condition called listeriosis.  Symptoms include headache, fever, nausea, muscle aches, and vomiting, which can progress to stiff neck, disorientation, and convulsions.  The CDC reports there are about 1,600 listeria bacterial infections every year, resulting in about 260 deaths.  

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