Listeria-Tainted Sandwiches Sold by California Firm, FDA Says

The U.S. Department of Justice, on behalf of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), has filed a complaint for permanent injunction against Rel’s Foods Inc., of Oakland, California, seeking to stop the company from manufacturing, producing, and selling adulterated food products, the FDA just announced.

According to an FDA press release, the complaint also names Rel’s Vice President, Peder Scott Sorensen, and two managers, Patrick O’Malley and Timothy E. Ault. Rel’s prepares, processes, and distributes a variety of ready-to-eat sandwiches to convenience stores, deli markets, liquor stores, mini-marts, and gas stations in Nevada and California.

The government’s complaint, which was filed this week in the U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, alleges that Rel’s has an extensive history of operating under insanitary conditions. According to the press release, the complaint states that Rel’s has produced and distributed ready-to-eat sandwiches contaminated with <"http://www.yourlawyer.com/topics/overview/listeria">Listeria monocytogenes (L. mono). Listeriosis is the illness caused by L. mono.

The complaint alleges that FDA investigators found L. mono inside Rel’s production facility on numerous occasions since 2002. Additionally, routine laboratory testing by the Department of Defense and the California Department of Public Health, Food and Drug Branch (CFDB) found L. mono in the company’s processing plant and finished sandwiches. Based on recent laboratory analyses, CFDB has embargoed and seized all in-process and finished products inside the facility.

The FDA and CFDB inspections also revealed that the company repeatedly violated the current Good Manufacturing Practice (cGMP) requirements for foods. Investigators found poor employee sanitation practices and inappropriately maintained facility and manufacturing equipment, including excessive condensation dripping onto food contact surfaces.

“Rel’s lack of effective measures to bring its food processing operations into compliance with the law poses a serious public health threat,” Michael Chappell, the FDA’s acting associate commissioner for regulatory affairs, said in the release. “The company’s failure to comply with good manufacturing practice also demonstrates the potential for the company to continue to manufacture contaminated products.”

Listeriosis can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. Healthy individuals may suffer only short-term symptoms, such as high fever, severe headache, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea. In pregnant women, Listeria can result in miscarriage, stillbirth, or birth of a baby suffering from the infection. Pregnant women are about 20 times likelier than others to be infected, with about one-third of all Listeria cases occurring during pregnancy.

No illnesses have been reported so far from Rel’s products. Individuals who have eaten the products and who experience symptoms such as high fever, severe headache, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain, and diarrhea, should contact their health care professional. Consumers can report problems with FDA-regulated products to their district office consumer complaint coordinator, which can be located at: http://www.fda.gov/Safety/ReportaProblem/ConsumerComplaintCoordinators/default.htm

Listeria is responsible for an estimated 2,500 illnesses in the United States annually, with about 200 in every 1,000 cases resulting in death. Listeria infection can take days, even weeks, to develop and can present in anything from a mild flu-like illness to meningitis and septicemia.

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