Listeria Contaminations and Recall—The 2022 Dole Salad Recall

In January 2022, Dole Fresh Vegetables, Inc. issued a voluntary recall of salad mixes containing iceberg lettuce over listeria contamination.

Every few months, there's another food recall due to worries over microorganisms in your food that can make you sick. What makes food regulators and manufacturers recall such vast amounts of product and possibly alarm consumers? Here's what you should know about Listeria recalls, how they protect your health, and where to find information if you think you might be affected.

Buying salad at supermarket

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The Dole Package Salad Recall

In January 2022, Dole Fresh Vegetables, Inc. voluntarily recalled all Dole and private-label packaged salads. The recall targeted mixes containing iceberg lettuce and those processed at Springfield, Ohio, and Soledad, Calif., production facilities. The concern was over a disease-causing organism called Listeria monocytogenes.

A few months before that, the Department of Agriculture recalled some brands of camembert and brie soft cheese over Listeria.

In Dole's case, the impacted salads were shipped to 37 states and six Canadian provinces. Besides the Dole brand, manufacturers sold the products under H-E-B, Marketside, President's Choice, Kroger, and Little Salad Bar labels.

Several Sickened In Listeria Outbreaks

The 2022 incident wasn't the first time Dole recalled some of its products over listeria concerns.

In October 2021, Dole recalled four of its ready-to-eat salads over Listeria. Then, the company recalled 180 packaged salad products in December 2021 as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) investigated a Listeria outbreak. According to the Food and Drug Administration, eight people became sick, and listeria was found in products in 13 states.

Fresh Express also issued a salad recall in December 2021 due to Listeria. According to the Food and Drug Administration, ten people were hospitalized, and one died.

But Listeria recalls aren't limited to salads. There were three outbreaks in 2021, two for the Dole salads and one for what the Food and Drug Administration termed "Hispanic-style soft cheeses," including queso fresco, quesillo, and requesón. The Food and Drug Administration also issued a recall in September 2022 for brie and camembert soft cheese products and another in July 2022 for ice cream.

Listeria recalls have also affected other produce items such as peaches, nectarines, and plums.

What Is Listeriosis?

Listeria can cause a potentially fatal sickness called listeriosis in vulnerable people. Listeria thrives in moist environments, animals, soil, water, and rotting vegetation. When people eat food containing the microorganism, they can develop listeriosis.

Typically, symptoms resolve within a few days. But if listeriosis spreads to the nervous system, the consequences may include months-long illness, meningitis, or sepsis. Listeriosis can also cause stillbirth and death in neonates.

An estimated 1,600 people develop listeriosis yearly, and about 260 of those cases result in death. According to the CDC, pregnant people, neonates, adults aged 65 or older, and people with weakened immune systems are most at risk.

Listeriosis Symptoms

Symptoms can vary, depending on whether someone is pregnant. For example, in pregnant people, listeriosis will often cause the following symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle aches  

Pregnant people can become infected without experiencing symptoms. But even in asymptomatic cases, people may experience serious pregnancy complications. Those complications may include miscarriage, stillbirth, premature delivery, or life-threatening illness in neonates.

In people who aren't pregnant, listeriosis symptoms may include the following symptoms:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Feeling lethargic
  • Jaundice, which is the yellowing of the skin, eyes, or mucous membranes
  • Pneumonia or other respiratory problems
  • Shock, including sepsis
  • Rash on the skin
  • Vomiting

People with listeriosis usually develop symptoms one to four weeks after eating contaminated food. However, according to the CDC, some people may develop symptoms as early as the same day they were exposed or as late as 70 days after exposure.

Origins of Listeria

In the case of the January 2022 recall, employees tested the equipment used to harvest the salad's raw iceberg lettuce. They found that the equipment contained Listeria. How did bacteria end up contaminating the equipment? It probably came from animal excrement or something soiled with Listeria.

"Listeria—often present in the intestine of mammals and birds—[leave] the animal's body through its stool where it can then contaminate leafy greens and other foods through the stool directly or via contaminated soil or water," Darin Detwiler, LPD, MAEd, assistant teaching professor of food policy at Northeastern University, told Health.

Detwiler added that it's like Listeria got into the soil and the equipment that came into contact with it.

"Just like the food in the ground can become contaminated, so, too, can the equipment," said Detwiler.

Listeria "could potentially live for years on food processing equipment," so testing the equipment, as Dole did, is essential, Candice Christian, area specialized agent of consumer and retail food safety at North Carolina State University, told Health

Strategies To Stop Listeria Contamination

Listeria can also survive in refrigerators and spread to food preparation surfaces. For that reason, if you ever have products that become recalled, the Food and Drug Administration urges you not to eat them and throw them out immediately.

"While cooking these foods properly can kill the Listeria bacteria, most people do not consume cooked leafy greens," added Detwiler. "Further, refrigerating the products won't kill the bacteria. If anything, the bacterial culture can grow while inside the refrigerator."

Detwiler said that you could not smell, see, or taste Listeria in food. So, it's vital to ensure that recalls don't impact products in your fridge or on your counter.

Christian recommended keeping tabs on your symptoms if you think you have eaten a product recalled due to possible Listeria contamination. If you develop signs of listeriosis, contact a healthcare provider about the next steps, which may include antibiotic treatment.

How To Check For Recalled Products

The Food and Drug Administration declares a foodborne illness outbreak when two or more people get sick from the same food or drink. The agency then investigates the incident to prevent other people from becoming ill and learns how to prevent it from happening again.

You can keep up-to-date on foodborne illness outbreaks by checking health advisories posted by the Food and Drug Administration.

A Quick Review

Listeria is a concern because it causes a potentially severe illness called listeriosis. Listeriosis can seriously sicken you or cause death in specific vulnerable populations like pregnant people and neonates. Listeria contamination has led to several recalls of food products.

It's essential to make sure you don't have any products potentially contaminated with Listeria lurking in your home or kitchen. The bacteria can quickly spread to food surfaces and live for a long time there, even in the refrigerator.

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  2. Food and Drug Administration. Outbreak investigation of Listeria monocytogenes: Brie and camembert soft cheese products (September 2022).

  3. Food and Drug Administration. Dole Fresh Vegetables announces precautionary limited recall of Garden Classic Salads for possible contamination with Listeria monocytogenes.

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  5. Food and Drug Administration. Outbreak investigation of Listeria monocytogenes: Fresh Express packaged salads (December 2021).

  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Investigation details.

  7. Food and Drug Administration. Outbreak investigation of Listeria monocytogenes: Ice cream (July 2022).

  8. Simonetti T, Peter K, Chen Y, et al. Prevalence and Distribution of Listeria monocytogenes in Three Commercial Tree Fruit PackinghousesFront Microbiol. 2021;12:652708. doi:10.3389/fmicb.2021.652708

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  11. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Listeriosis symptoms.

  12. National Library of Medicine. Listeriosis.

  13. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Questions and answers.

  14. Food and Drug Administration. Keep Listeria out of your kitchen.

  15. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Information for health professionals and laboratories.

  16. Food and Drug Administration. Outbreaks of foodborne illness.

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