If you live in the United States and have bought frozen fruit or veggies from Trader Joe’s in the past, oh, two years, you may want to pay attention to this one: A Washington-based frozen foods manufacturer has just recalled nearly 360 fruit and vegetable products sold in popular grocery stores nationwide, including Trader Joe’s and Safeway, due to potential contamination by listeria. This is a huge expansion of a much smaller recall that has been in effect since April.
The recall now applies to all products that the company, CRF Frozen Foods, has ever made going back to May 2014, with “sell by” dates from April 2016 to April 2018. So far eight people across three states have been hospitalized due to listeria. Some of those cases have been connected to the recall; others are still being investigated. Two people have died. “Epidemiologic and laboratory evidence available at this time indicates that frozen vegetables produced by CRF Frozen Foods of Pasco, Washington and sold under various brand names are one likely source of illness in this outbreak,” reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which called the situation “a complex, ongoing investigation.”
The contaminated products could show up on shelves in all 50 U.S. states and some Canadian provinces, the company said in a statement. A full list of recalled products—including frozen organic sweet yellow corn, organic chopped kale, organic broccoli florets, organic wild strawberries, and organic sweet potatoes—can be found here.
Listeria has most of your usual stomach-bug symptoms, including fever, fatigue, headache, nausea, abdominal pain, and diarrhea. If you’re an average healthy person, you might eat contaminated food and not even get sick. But for those with compromised immune systems—babies, pregnant women, the elderly, and the ill—the infection can be serious and deadly. Of common foodborne pathogens, it’s less common but more lethal: Each year listeriosis causes about 1,600 illnesses and 260 deaths in the U.S., according to the CDC.
Perhaps the creepiest thing about this recent recall is that freezer food lasts pretty much forever, often hibernating for years in the icy recesses of your freezer. And so does listeria. Unlike other pathogens, listeria can grow even in subzero temperatures and can thrive there for long periods of time. The bacteria’s hardiness and longevity make it possible for people to get ill years after purchasing a product. Like E. Coli, listeria is killed by heating at high temperatures (more than 165 F). But because microwaving can be uneven, best to just go ahead and do a thorough spring cleaning of your freezer.*
*Update, May 16, 2016:This post has been updated to reflect the fact that microwaving is not a reliable way to kill all bacteria.