Since March 2016, federal officials have been investigating a multistate Listeria outbreak linked to frozen organic and traditional vegetables from CRF Foods. Eight people have been sickened and two deaths have occurred, although officials have said those deaths were not a result of the outbreak.

The Listeria outbreak linked to CRF Foods stretches back to September 2013. Just this spring, the company issued recalls for hundreds of frozen food products sold under a variety of popular store brand names. After submitting a Freedom of Information Act request, The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) gained access to three inspection reports from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Those reports prove that problems at CRF’s Pasco, WA plant were rampant for well over a year before the company announced a widespread recall of their frozen food products this year.

What safety violations are noted in the reports?

In December 2014:

  • A bin of soapy water containing dead insects was sitting close to the corn handling area
  • No warm or hot water at some handwashing areas--a critical violation, according to inspectors
  • Ceiling showed signs of black residue directly above one of the plant’s repackaging lines
  • Plant floors in poor condition

At a follow-up visit 9 months later, some of the these violations had still not been addressed.  

In September 2015:

  • Ceiling showed signs of black residue directly above one of the plant’s repackaging lines
  • Condensation on ceiling and pipes near the green bean handling area
  • A substance resembling mold on pipes near the corn processing line
  • Leaking pipes carrying chlorinated water on the corn processing line

While health officials say that some of these violations were corrected within the month, others were sidelined and added to CRF’s 2016 budget.

Despite what the reports seem to prove, CRF spokesman Gene Grabowski told WSJ this week, “Constant effort is required to keep a big food plant in repair and in compliance with local, state and federal regulations. CRF’s plant, like all others in the food industry, is always in a state of maintenance and cleanup.”

To date, food safety experts hired by CRF have not found a direct source of Listeria contamination at the plant in question, making it unclear as to whether or not the plant is the actual cause of the outbreak.

Is it possible that food was already contaminated before it was sent to CRF for processing and packaging?

According to WSJ, FDA’s 2015 report “shows CRF had been notified during the spring that food shipped to the company was contaminated with Listeria. The tainted food remained in the plant in September, though it was being stored separately while CRF prepared for its disposal at a nearby landfill.”

The investigation into the original source of Listeria contamination continues.