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Frozen Fruit Recalls Raise Concerns: Are You at Risk?

Older adults are more susceptible to foodborne pathogens


spinner image a cocktail of frozen fruit including strawberries, pineapple, blueberries and mango chunks which may be contaminated with listeria and hepatitis A
BWFolsom / Getty Images

With the recent recalls of frozen fruit due to contamination concerns, many consumers are wondering whether it’s safe to eat frozen fruit. In general, eating raw fruit — fresh or frozen — poses inherent risks because it hasn’t been cooked or heated, something that kills most foodborne pathogens. ​

​“We don’t have any way to protect ourselves that is proven to be effective,” says Francisco Diez-Gonzalez, director of the Center for Food Safety at the University of Georgia. “The only step that fresh fruits and vegetables are subjected to is some washing, depending on the origin of the product.” ​

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During the past month, dozens of frozen fruit products have been recalled throughout the U.S. due to two separate contamination events. One was a potential listeria contamination involving pineapples and mangos. The other involved frozen organic strawberries related to an outbreak of hepatitis A that was first announced in March. ​ ​

Frozen versus fresh fruit

“If the produce is contaminated, which is better: frozen or fresh? Neither one is better,” says Gina Nicholson Kramer, associate director at the Center for Foodborne Illness Research and Prevention at The Ohio State University.

There haven’t been any widespread recalls of fresh fruit this year.​ ​

Unlike frozen vegetables that come with specific cooking instructions, frozen fruit doesn't have such guidelines. As a result, consumers can assume that frozen fruit can be eaten without cooking, she said.​ 

​“Usually, frozen fruit manufacturers are very good at making sure that produce goes through a special wash to eliminate foodborne pathogens that could be on the produce,” Kramer says “But unfortunately, the wash systems to get rid of the pathogens don’t all work 100 percent.”​ ​

Possible sources of contamination

In the case of the contaminated frozen strawberries, Diez-Gonzalez theorizes that a farmworker, rather than environmental factors, was responsible. This is because hepatitis is not typically present in the environment. ​ 

​“Generally, not many people are testing for the presence of hepatitis in food. It’s most likely because somebody got sick,” he says.​

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When manufacturers can’t identify the exact boxes or fields affected by contamination, they choose to recall the entire production line as a precautionary measure to prevent more people from getting sick.​ ​

When it comes to a listeria contamination, figuring out the origin can be tricky. Listeria is a pathogen commonly found in nature, but it could also come from manufacturing equipment, making it harder to pinpoint the exact source, Diez-Gonzalez says. “The routes of potential transmission are much more diverse.” ​ ​

Efforts to make fruit safer

​The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) plans to update its rules governing the agricultural water used before harvesting produce. It proposed a revision to the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) Produce Safety Rule that would require farms to test water quality to identify conditions that would likely introduce known or potential risks to produce. ​

​It also has proposed additional record-keeping requirements for food producers and handlers to improve food tracking in the supply chain. If finalized, the regulation would require detailed records of packaging, shipping, receiving and processing that would help the agency quickly identify who received the food and better respond to foodborne illness outbreaks.​ ​

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Health implications of hepatitis A and listeria

​​Hepatitis A infections can cause severe liver damage and, in rare cases, death. Fortunately, most cases resolve within a week or two without complications.​​

Symptoms are typical of most food sicknesses, such as diarrhea, vomiting and general discomfort, except for noticeable yellowing of the skin or the whites of the eyes.​ 

​There tends to be very few cases of listeria in the U.S. with about 1,600 cases per year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, it is one of the deadliest foodborne infections ,with about 16 percent of cases resulting in death.

​Listeria and hepatitis A are especially dangerous for adults 65 and older, as well as those with weakened immune systems. Pregnant women and newborns are also at risk from listeria, as it can cause systemic infections affecting organs beyond the gastrointestinal tract and potentially leading to meningitis.​ ​

Older adults and foodborne illness

​​Older adults are particularly vulnerable to foodborne diseases due to the natural weakening of the immune system as we age.​ 

​“Not only are they more susceptible, but their symptoms could be worse,” Diez-Gonzalez says.​ 

​He recommends that older adults closely follow food safety practices, such as making sure meat is cooked to the proper internal temperature, not leaving foods outside the refrigerator for longer than two hours, washing hands frequently when handling food, and avoiding cross contamination between raw ingredients and ready-to-eat food.​ ​

What products have been recalled and where?

Aldi: Simply Nature Organic Strawberries, Season’s Choice Tropical Blend, Season’s Choice Mixed Fruit​ ​

Costco: Rader Farms Organic Fresh Start Smoothie Blend, Kirkland Signature Organic Strawberries​ ​

HEB: Rader Farms Organic Berry Trio​ ​

Kroger: Private Selection Topical Mango Chunks, Private Selection Strawberry, Mango & Pineapple Blend, Private Selection Classic Fruit Medley and Private Selection Blueberries, Strawberries & Mangos (Products were also sold at these subsidiary stores: Baker's, Dillons, Food 4 Less, FoodsCo, Fry's, Gerbes, Jay C, Mariano's, Metro Market, Pay Less, Pick n' Save, Raplhs, Ruler and Smith's.)

Target: Good & Gather Organic Cherries and Berries Fruit Blend, Good & Gather Dark Sweet Whole Pitted Cherries, Good & Gather Mango Strawberry Fruit Blend, Good & Gather Mixed Fruit Blend, Good & Gather Mango Fruit Chunks, Good & Gather Blueberries, Good & Gather Triple Berry Fruit Blend ​ ​

Trader Joe’s: Organic Tropical Fruit Blend​

Walmart: Great Value Sliced Strawberries, Great Value Mixed Fruit, Great Value Antioxidant Blend, Great Value Dark Sweet Cherries, Great Value Mango Chunks​ 

Whole Foods: 365 Organic Tropical Fruit Medley, 365 Organic Pineapple Chunks, 365 Pineapple Chunks, 365 Organic Whole Strawberries, 365 Organic Sliced Strawberries and Bananas, 365 Organic Blackberries​ 

Other brands recalled: Cadia Organic Pineapple, AWG (Associated Wholesale Grocers) Best Choice Pitted Red Tart Cherries, Made With organic strawberries, PCC Community Markets organic strawberries, Vital Choice organic frozen strawberries

Editor's note: This story, originally published June 27, 2023, has been updated to include additional recalled products.

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