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Only apples from California contaminated

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The Public Health Inspectors (PHI) Union of Sri Lanka yesterday said they had received instructions from the Health Ministry that only apples originating from the US state of California needed to be removed from the market. They revealed that these are suspected to have been contaminated with the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes. Listeriosis is a rare but serious illness caused by eating food contaminated with this bacterium.

Secretary of the PHIs Union, Senarath Bandara told The Nation that the Director General of Health Services had sent out a fresh circular on Friday (January 30) stating that apples that originated from California should be removed from the market. “As such, apples originating from other parts of the United States as well as from other countries are free to be sold on the market,” he noted.

However, Bandara acknowledged it would take some time to trace the apples around the country. “It’s not like the vendors know from which state the apples came from. Even the boxes mostly have the country of origin and not the state. As such, the apples need to be traced through the importers themselves”.

Nevertheless, PHIs across the country were currently working to ensure that all such apples are traced and taken off the market, Bandara added.

Meanwhile, Chief Medical Officer of the Colombo Municipal Council, Dr. Ruwan Wijayamuni said American apples were returned to the importers following an earlier circular instructing to remove them from the market. “Within the Colombo city limits, these apples are no longer on sale. I can give that assurance. However, I can’t say anything regarding the situation outside the city limits as it doesn’t come under my purview,” he said.

Dr. Wijayamuni said the alarm was raised by the Director General of Health Services to protect the consumers. “I personally went with some PHIs to Fort and Pettah to explain the situation to the vendors and we have also informed supermarkets to take these apples off the shelves and send them back to the importers,” he further said.

Dr. Wijayamuni said while it was still unclear if any of the American apples imported to Sri Lanka had been contaminated with the bacteria, authorities had no other choice than to send the apples back to the importers for now, given the seriousness of the issue.
Samples of the apples have been sent to the Medical Research Institute (MRI) for testing. Meanwhile, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has stated that it and Centers for Disease Control (CDC), together with state and local officials are investigating an outbreak of listeriosis linked to commercially-produced, prepackaged whole caramel apples.

According to the CDC, as of January 9, 2015, 32 people infected with the outbreak strains of Listeria monocytogenes have been reported from 11 states. The CDC reports that 31 ill people have been hospitalized. Listeriosis has contributed to three deaths. Ten illnesses were pregnancy-related, with one illness resulting in a fetal loss.

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