Contaminated-food recalls are on pace to surge this year from 2014, buoyed by the discovery of bacteria in everything from ice cream to spinach.
Companies recalled 3.7 million U.S. food items in the first half of the year because of viral or bacterial contaminants such as listeria and salmonella, consulting firm Stericycle ExpertSolutions said. That compares with 5.03 million in all of 2014, according to the firm's data, which was collected from the Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Agriculture.
"We're seeing contamination be a much bigger issue," said Kevin Pollack, a vice president at Stericycle, which advises companies on recalls and food safety.
The 2015 tally includes several high-profile cases, including the recall of listeria-tainted Blue Bell Creameries Inc. ice cream that was linked to the deaths of three people. Affected products also include hummus, spinach, walnuts and hazelnuts, as well as soybean and mung-bean sprouts.
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Blue Bell, a closely held company based in Texas, had to recall all its products after a listeria monocytogenes bacterial outbreak killed three people. After temporarily halting production, Blue Bell plans to start selling its ice cream again in select areas on Aug. 31. Other ice-cream makers, including Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams, have issued recalls in recent months after detecting listeria.
Listeria primarily affects older people, pregnant wom
en, newborns or adults with weakened immune systems, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Symptoms include fever and muscle aches, sometimes preceded by diarrhea or other gastrointestinal symptoms. Infection can lead to miscarriage or stillbirth in pregnant women, the CDC said.
In the first half of this year, organic products made up about two-thirds of the viral and bacterial contaminant recalls, according to Stericycle.
As food makers change procedures and use fewer chemicals and pesticides, there's the potential for more contamination, Pollack said.
Wegmans Food Markets Inc. and Amy's Kitchen Inc. both recalled products with organic frozen spinach due to a possible listeria contamination this year. Trader Joe's Co, did the same with organic walnuts that may have been tainted with salmonella.
Like listeria, salmonella is a bacteria and can cause diarrhea, fever and stomach cramps. There are about 1.2 million illnesses and 450 deaths a year due to salmonella in the U.S., the CDC said. Fewer are infected with listeria, with about 1,600 illnesses and 260 deaths reported annually.