5,000 cases of adulterated crab products seized

U.S. Marshals seized 5,000 cases of ready-to-eat frozen Jonah crab products that were processed by Rome Packing Company, Inc. (Rome Packing) over concerns that the products were contaminated with harmful bacteria. The FDA and the Department of Justice announced the seizure after FDA inspections revealed that the products were prepared, packed, and held under unsanitary conditions and could present a risk to human health.

FDA Inspections

From late 2014 through early 2015, the FDA conducted inspections of Rome Packing’s facility in Massachusetts. The FDA investigators found that the company engaged in poor sanitary practices and that its crab cooking process did not maintain adequate temperatures so as to prevent the growth of pathogens such as Listeria monocytogenes (L. mono). Investigators also collected environmental swabs and found the presence of L. mono in the manufacturing area, which indicated that other areas of the facility were colonized with the pathogen.

L. mono

L. mono is a pathogenic bacterium, which can contaminate food and cause a life-threatening illness, listeriosis. L. mono can survive for long periods of time and can grow under refrigeration and in wet conditions. Individuals who have compromised immune systems are especially susceptible to listeriosis, including pregnant women, developing fetuses, and elderly individuals. While healthy individuals may suffer from only short-term symptoms such as abdominal pain, diarrhea, and a high fever, listeriosis can cause miscarriages and stillbirths. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 1,600 illness and 600 deaths are attributable to listeriosis each year.

In 2012, the country experienced its largest outbreak of listeriosis, with 147 illnesses, 33 deaths, and one miscarriage among residents in 28 states, all associated with eating cantaloupe from a single farm.

Whole Genome Sequencing

In order to link the samples that were collected in Rome Packing facility, the FDA used a bacterial typing tool called whole genome sequencing (WGS), which reveals the complete genetic makeup of an organism and allows the FDA to define the scope of a foodborne illness outbreak by linking sick patients to food or a food production environment. The faster that a source of contamination can be identified, the faster the harmful ingredient can be removed from the food supply.

WGS was recently used to track the source of listeriosis in California that involved caramel apples. WGS is so precise that the FDA was able to use it identify a single apple supplier and two types of contaminated applies involved with the illness. As a result, the supplier was able to quickly take steps to recall the apples.

Genome Sequencing Efforts

The FDA is heading up an international effort to create a network of laboratories that can sequence genomes and upload the genomic sequence and the geographic location into a public database, the Genome Trakr, which can be used to speed up food borne illness investigations. The FDA has also partnered with the CDC in the attempt to sequence every isolate of L. mono collected in the entire U.S.

Previous Recalls

The seizure is not Rome Packing’s first run-in with L. mono. In October 2014, the company issued a voluntary recall of its crab leg meat after the company determined that some of its products may have been contaminated with L. mono. The company is currently not in operation or producing any food and is reportedly in receivership.

The FDA’s Associate Commissioner for Regulatory Affairs, Melinda K. Plaisier, said in a released statement, “The FDA made several efforts to help Rome Packing correct processes, but the company failed to take adequate corrective measures.” She added, “In this case, we had to intervene and seize this adulterated food to prevent it from reaching consumers.”