“An apple a day will keep the doctor away” is a common proverb; but, whether it truly plays a role towards a healthy lifestyle is a question that needs to be probed when considering the recent outbreak of the food borne bacterium Listeria found in American apples. Listeriosis is a fatal illness caused by the bacterium commonly known as Listeria. Sources say that the temporary ban of apples imported to the country from America is only a safety measure taken to ensure the safety of the public.
The Public Health Inspector’s Union yesterday said that the public should refrain from consuming apples imported from America as it had been reported that they may be contaminated with Listeria. Speaking to Dailymirror Senarath Bandara Secretary of the Public Health Inspector’s Union said that the consumption of these apples grown in a particular state in America contains Listeria which causes Listeriosis. “So far, four people have died of the illness after consuming apples imported from America and the authorities have advised the public to refrain from consuming these apples,” he said. Bandara also said that raids would be carried in super markets and stores to ensure that apples with the potential to cause Listeriosis are not sold.
Raid carried out by public health inspectors
The raid was carried out following a circular issued by the Director General of Health Services. Dr. Wijayamuni Chief Medical Officer of Health of the CMC said that the circular instructed all medical officers in cities and provincial directors of health services to take necessary action to remove suspected apples from the market. “There was an outbreak of Listeriosis in US and Canada in early January this year caused by a the bacterium Listeria monocytogense spread mainly through apples. As authorised officers of the Food Act we have a big responsibility to ensure the safety of the public. I personally went with my team and several public health inspectors to areas covering Pettah, Fort and a few warehouses of importers to ensure that these apples are not released to the market. As we found such apples ready for distribution we instructed the wholesalers to return them to the importers instead of giving them to the retailers for sale,” he added.
According to Dr. Wijayamuni it has also been evident that after the public was made aware of this situation they have discovered that several vendors have been selling apples imported from America after removing their labels. Firm instructions have been given to food inspectors and market chains with regard to these events and currently apples that carry a potential risk of spreading Listeriosis have been almost entirely removed from the Colombo city. Approximately two thousand kilos of apples worth nearly one million rupees have been removed from the market.
The symptoms of Listeriosis are fever, severe abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea. Children and the elderly are considered the most vulnerable.
In the event anyone is diagnosed with Listeriosis the patient must be immediately taken to the nearest hospital. Dr. Wijayamuni said that according to the literature available, twenty to thirty per cent of those who carry the disease are seriously ill. He laid emphasis on the importance of scrutinising labels on fruits to establish the country of their origin and batch numbers prior to purchasing them. He also added that this was only a precautionary step to assure that the public is safe and it is not a reason to panic as such an illness has not been reported in Sri Lanka according to his knowledge. Currently the Medical Research Institute has taken measures to test apples for Listeria contamination. Dr. Sujatha Pathiraja Consultant Microbiologist of the Medical Research Institute said that the institute is still receiving samples for testing. She said that they would commence testing the samples today.. “The testing to ascertain whether the apples imported from America are actually contaminated will take some time.
The best advice I could give the public is to refrain from consuming apples for sometime until we arrive at a conclusion from the tests. This is the only precautionary move that can be taken for the time being. Besides it is always advisable to consume fruits after they are thoroughly washed,” she said.
FDA report on Listeria monocytogense
The US Food and Drug Administration, Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and state and local authorities of America are currently working together to investigate the outbreak of Listeriosis which is linked to commercially produced, pre-packaged whole caramel apples. According to CDC it had been reported that as of January 9, 2015 thirty- two people have been infected by the disease in 11 states and thirty- one people have been hospitalised due to this illness. This has also resulted in three deaths and ten illnesses that were related to pregnancy.
Happy Apple Company of Missouri, California, Snack Foods of El Monte in California and Merb’s Candies of St. Louis, Missouri have voluntarily issued recalls for caramel apples manufactured by them fearing they might contain Listeria. This was mainly due to a notice they had received from Bidart Bros, an apple supplier in Bakersfield located in California who informed there may be a link between the outbreak of Listeriosis and apples supplied by them to these companies.
The FDA further highlighted that elders and people with a weakened immune system are exposed to a higher risk and this may also result in medical conditions such as cancer. Pregnant women diagnosed with the infection may have miscarriages, still births and grave infirmity and death in new born babies. FDA has alerted the public that they should refrain from consuming Granny Smith and Gala apples as they were of the varieties recalled by Bidart Bros or the caramel apples made using them.
Further reference for the deterrence of Listeriosis is made available at the CDC Listeria website: http://www.cdc.gov/listeria/prevention.html.