Avocado eaters have been struck twice this year with an enemy of avocados – Listeria monocytogenes. Henry’s Avocado Corporation and Nature’s Touch announced in March and June, respectively, an avocado recall due to contamination.
The natural concluding question here is:

Are we safe now from avocado Listeria?

Avocado Listeria sounds scary, there’s no doubt there. Avocado lovers might be wondering how we can be sure this bacteria stays away from their beloved fruit. Sadly, there is no magic potion that keeps listeria away from avocados, however, there are measures you can take to keep avocado Listeria away from you.

What is Listeria Monocytogenes?

avocado listeria

Listeria is a common bacteria. More often than not, fruit and vegetables have to be recalled due to contamination. Certain foods (ready-to-eat refrigerated foods, unpasteurized milk, and foods made with unpasteurized milk) are often contaminated with Listeria. These foodborne bacteria can grow at refrigerator temperatures and can cause an illness that in most healthy people is unpleasant but not serious.

A report by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has revealed that avocado peels can contain Listeria and Salmonella. The report is based on a two-year assessment of avocados that was conducted to determine the prevalence of bacteria on the harvest. The FDA collected 1,615 samples of avocados.

While Listeria contamination was minimal on tests of the avocado fruit, the bacteria was more prevalent on the skin. After testing 361 avocados from the larger sample, the FDA found 17% contained Listeria on the skin.

The best way to keep yourself safe from Listeria is to take measures into your own hands and follow simple but effective directions that we will explain later on.

Avocado Listeria – what happened in 2019?

In March, California-grown avocados sold by the Henry Avocado Corporation were recalled due to potential contamination with Listeria. The word ‘potential’ is important here because so far no has one had a reported Listeria infection from eating a Henry Avocado avocado and the announcement never confirmed the existence of the bacteria in the corporation’s fruit.

The recall happened due to the positive result of environmental tests in California, meaning that the bacteria was found near the avocados. The Henry Avocado Corporation decided, thus, to recall avocados for precaution.

One way for consumers to identify Henry Avocado’s recalled products at retail is by the “Bravocado” label on the sticker on the outside of the fruit.
This recall affected the six states in which Henry Avocado Corporation makes distribution: Arizona, California, Florida, New Hampshire, North Carolina, and Wisconsin.

avocado listeria
Image by: The Packer

Packing didn’t start at this facility until late January 2019, so if you bought Henry Avocado avocados in 2018, you should have no problem.
In June, it was Nature’s Touch Frozen Foods (Nature’s Touch) turn to recall their product. Nature’s Touch voluntary recalled Signature Select Avocado Chunks (12 oz. bags), with a best before the date of Oct 11, 20, due to potential contamination with Listeria.

Nature’s Touch issued a voluntary recall based on strict measures after the company was informed by the FDA that a routine sampling program found a positive result for Listeria in one sample bag of the product.

The product was distributed in the States of Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, South Dakota, Washington, Wyoming, Texas and Utah and at these following banner stores: Albertsons, Safeway, Safeway Community Markets, Carrs-Safeway, Eagle, Lucky, Pak N Save, Pavilions, and Vons.

Both these recalls can be considered as solved since the contaminated products have been taken out of the market and to date no cases of illness have been linked to these contaminations.

Refund

Both corporations advise customers to discard the avocados and offer a refund for them.

Consumers who have purchased Nature’s Touch’s avocado chunks should discard the product or return it to the place of purchase for a full refund. Questions about the recall can be directed to Nature’s Touch Consumer Service Team by phone at 1-877-850-2664, Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. EST or by email at info@naturestouch.ca.

Consumers who have bought Henry Avocado Corporation’s avocados should discard them or return them to the store for a refund. Contact Henry Avocado with questions by calling (760) 745-6632, Ext 132 or by visiting their website.

Dangers of Listeria

Listeria monocytogenes is an organism which can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, elderly people, or people with weakened immune systems (like HIV, cancer, and transplant patients). Healthy individuals may suffer only short-term symptoms such as high fever, severe headache, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain, and diarrhea. Many people with a Listeria infection won’t even realize that Listeria is the culprit.

That’s because a wide variety of things can cause such symptoms, and it can take a while for symptoms to appear, anywhere from three to 70 days after you’ve consumed the bacteria. Thus, you may not always make the right connection between what you ate and your illness. Usually, this is not a big problem, because as long as the bacteria stays in your guts, you most likely will fully recover after a spate of unpleasantness.

Bigger problems occur when the bacteria invade your nervous system. This can result in inflammation of your brain (encephalitis) or inflammation of the membranes surrounding your brain (meningitis). Possible symptoms include headache, stiff neck, balance problems, seizures, and disorientation.

Listeria can also be a bigger problem when it gets into your bloodstream. This can lead to sepsis, a situation in which your immune system starts fighting the infection but then triggers chemical reactions that instead attack your own body.

Listeria infections can also be very dangerous for pregnant women. It might cause miscarriages, premature deliveries, stillbirths, and infections in the newborn.

How can one be sure an avocado is contaminated or not?

The objective answer is you can’t. There are no visible signs of avocado Listeria to the naked eye (you can pick the fresher ones though). It can only be spotted through tests. Nonetheless, there are preventive measures which can help you avoid Listeria:

Cool at the right temperature

The right temperatures slow the growth of Listeria. If necessary, put a refrigerator thermometer in the refrigerator and adjust the refrigerator temperature control. Put a second thermometer in the freezer.
Your refrigerator should register at 40°F (4°C) or below and your freezer at 0°F (-18°C).

Freshly cooked foods over ready-to-eat foods

Eat freshly-cooked or freshly-prepared foods. If you use ready-to-eat, refrigerated foods, eat them by the Use By date on the package. The longer they’re stored in the refrigerator, the more chance Listeria has to grow.

Keep the refrigerator clean

Clean the inside walls and shelves with hot water and mild liquid dishwashing detergent, rinse, then dry with a clean cloth or paper towel. Wipe up spills immediately, so Listeria doesn’t have a place to grow and then spread to other foods.

Wash and dry your hands thoroughly before and after handling and preparing food

Washing your hands with warm, soapy water before preparing food and keeping cutting boards and silverware clean can also help keep the bacteria out of your body.

Wash raw fruit and vegetables very well before eating

FDA reports have shown that Listeria is mostly found on the skin of vegetables and fruit. Washing raw fruit and vegetables scrupulously can avoid contamination.

Cook food thoroughly

Listeria bacteria don’t survive high temperatures, so be sure to cook your food meticulously.

Refrigerating leftovers immediately

Cool hot foods for 30 minutes before refrigerating and eat them within two days (leftovers should be reheated to steaming hot – at least 167° F before eating).