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If not washed before cutting open an avocado, listeria can transfer from knife to the fruit’s inner-core. Courtesy photo
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Popular Escondido avocado company faces listeria recall

ESCONDIDO — Just weeks after receiving a Mayor’s Leadership Award from Escondido Mayor Paul McNamara at the State of the City address, Escondido-based company Henry Avocado Corporation has voluntarily recalled its product due to potential listeria contamination.

The company made the announcement via press release on March 23, detailing that contaminated avocados grew in California.

The product was then distributed to six different states, including Arizona, California, Florida, New Hampshire, North Carolina and Wisconsin.

Henry Avocado primarily works in the avocado mass storage and distribution end of the industry’s supply chain, with a massive distribution center in Escondido, the city in which it was founded in 1925.

“Henry Avocado is issuing this voluntary recall out of an abundance of caution due to positive test results on environmental samples taken during a routine government inspection at its California packing facility,” reads the company press release. “There are no reported illnesses associated with this recall.”

The company also pointed to the potentially fatal consequences of consuming listeria in its press release.

“Listeria monocytogenes is an organism which can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems,” explains the company. “Although healthy individuals may suffer only short-term symptoms such as high fever, severe headache, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea, Listeria infection can cause miscarriages and stillbirths among pregnant women.”

Henry Avocado deferred a request for comment on the exact scientific explanation behind why listeria infected its avocados to University of California-Davis professor emeritus, Trevor Suslow, who now serves as vice president of food safety for the Produce Marketing Association.

“The finding of environmental positives for Listeria monocytogenes in the packing and shipping facility in California was in conjunction with a routine, not for cause, inspection conducted by the California Department of Health consistent with Federal Drug Administration state agreements under the authority of the Food Safety Modernization Act,” Suslow said. “The recall was quickly initiated by the packer upon being informed of the California Department of Health findings and included all California-sourced avocado by the company as a precautionary measure and in an exercise of an abundance of caution for consumer protection.

“These findings are relevant to a single packing company facility, for a specific and limited time period, and not the California avocado industry as a whole.”

Suslow added that Henry Avocado “has already begun a full cleaning and sanitizing effort, guided by third-party sanitation professionals.”

Another science expert, opinion contributor Dr. Ford Vox, praised Henry Avocado for its proactive posture in calling for a recall before federal or state regulators forced the company’s hand in a March 26 op-ed piece.

“Mass recalls of our wholesome fruits and vegetables like the avocado on Saturday and romaine lettuce just months ago are a reminder, but also something of a wake-up call,” wrote Ford. “The reminder is that we are all fundamentally reliant on good regulatory oversight (our well-used tax dollars at work) and good corporate management in the food sector. The wake-up call? Depending on a complex web of food production, delivery and mass retail sale — rather than well-stocked local sources — for what is on our plate every day is distinctly unnatural and makes us vulnerable.”

Ford also points out that listeria infection is not unique to Henry Avocado. He pointed to sampling done by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration from 2014-2016 which showed that almost 18 percent of avocados had listeria-laced skin.

If not washed before cutting open an avocado, that listeria can transfer from knife to the fruit’s inner-core.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 1,600 people come down the listeriosis illness each year, while about 260 die.

Deputy Food and Drug Administration Frank Yiannas pointed out on Twitter that the company’s avocados can be identified by finding the label “Bravocado” on avocados, or by examining the barcode to see if it has the numbers 94225 or 4770.

“FDA is urging consumers who believe they’ve purchased recalled avocados not to consume them, and to discard or return them,” tweeted Yiannas. “We appreciate Henry Avocado taking steps to confirm impacted product is removed from shelves & protect the public from this potential food safety issue.”

For its part, Henry Avocado has instructed consumers not to eat avocados matching the description for those recalled, saying returns of them should transpire at local grocery stores.