It was a bad year for orange fruit (papayas, cantaloupes) and leafy greens (especially romaine). Ground turkey took a big hit (36 million pounds recalled), and raw milk products were pulled from shelves. Here's a look back at 2011 in food recalls, a year of E. coli conundrums, Listeria hysteria and Salmonella scares.
5. Papayas: In July, Agromod Produce of McAllen, Texas, recalled all of its papayas because of potential contamination with Salmonella. The papayas, all imported from Mexico, were linked to 97 reported cases of Salmonella agona, including 10 hospitalizations, in 23 states. By August 26, the U.S. had decided to detain all papaya imports from Mexico after testing uncovered that 16 percent of the fruit was contaminated with Salmonella.
4. Raw milk: Then there was the not so rawesome raw milk products recalled in November after three children were hospitalized with E. coli infections after drinking California's Organic Pastures raw milk. Under protest, the company pulled its raw milk, butter, cream, colostrum and "Qephor" from store shelves.
3. Bagged salads: Bagged salads were especially dirty this year. In September, California's True Leaf farms recalled 2,498 cartons of chopped romaine lettuce because it was contaminated with Listeria. That was quickly followed by the recall of 3,265 cases of bagged salads in October by Taylor Farms Retail, another California producer, due to possible Salmonella contamination. In November, Irwindale-based Ready Pac Foods Inc. recalled 5,379 cases of bagged salad products containing romaine lettuce because of possible contamination with E. coli bacteria. Between the three companies, they hit the food-borne bacteria trifecta.
2. Ground turkey: In August, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recalled 36 million pounds of ground turkey in the wake of a multi-state outbreak of antibiotic-resistant Salmonella linked to the death of a California man. Seventy-seven people in 26 states reported becoming ill after consuming Cargill brand ground turkey between March 1 and August 1, with Michigan, Ohio, Texas, Illinois, California and Pennsylvania having the most cases, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. Cargill was also linked to a 2000 Listeria outbreak.
1. Cantaloupe: The year's--perhaps the century's--worst outbreak was the Listeria found in cantaloupes from Colorado's Jensen Farms in September. Eventually 30 deaths were linked to the outbreak, which spanned 28 states and lasted three months. Food Safety News called it the deadliest outbreak in the U.S. in 100 years. Thirty of 146 persons infected--that's one out of five--did not survive. (California had four cases but no deaths.)
No one enjoys food-poisoning, especially when it kills you. The CDC estimates that one in six people in the United States gets sick from eating contaminated food each year. Food-borne illness is blamed for about 3,000 deaths annually. Although E. coli infections have declined, according to a June 2011 CDC report, Salmonella infections have been on the rise over the last 15 years. Salmonella is particularly hard to combat, the agency says, because it is found in so many different kinds of foods: meats, eggs, fruits, vegetables, nuts, fish, grains, beans and even processed foods such as peanut butter; and contamination can occur anywhere, from fields to processing plants to cutting boards in kitchens.
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Combatting food-borne illness has become even more of a challenge, the agency says, because "What we eat and how we eat have changed: foods coming from one central location are widely distributed, meaning that sickness can spread quickly; we eat more meals outside the home; and more foods and ingredients come from all over the world." To editorialize for just one moment: Food safety seems to be a victim of globalization, which is why it might be a good idea to patronize your local farmers market. Or grow your own if you have a yard and a green thumb.
To keep up on the latest outbreaks and food-borne illness news, go to www.foodsafety.gov. Let's all hope for a puke-free 2012.
Follow Samantha Bonar @samantha bonar.