From romaine to ground beef, some foods seem to be more prone to contamination and food safety issues, frequently being the subject of recalls. This year, however, a completely different item was pulled off the shelves more than any other.
In 2022 alone, enoki mushrooms have been at the center of 11 listeria-related recalls, 10 of which were initiated during the first four months of the year. It has been, by far, the most problematic food.
“Any commodity vying for the distant second-place finish—cheese, leafy greens, ground beef—has had fewer than half as many recalls so far this year,” Food Poisoning Bulletin reports.
According to Consumer Reports, enoki mushrooms have been recalled more than 20 times since 2020. One listeria outbreak between 2016 and 2020 sickened 36 people in the United States, killing four of them. This prompted the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to carry out an Imported Specialty Mushroom Prevention Strategy with a focus on enoki mushrooms.
All of the mushrooms that have been recalled over the last two years have been from Korea, China, and Taiwan, with the FDA announcing in July that its Import Divisions may detain—without physical examination—importations of enoki mushrooms from the Republic of Korea.
The recurring product recall raises the question of why enoki mushrooms are often contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes. In the July import alert, the FDA wrote, “Evidence suggests that enoki mushrooms may be a high-risk reservoir for L. monocytogenes due to the difficulty in maintaining good hygienic practices at medium-sized plants where the mushrooms are typically produced.”
Meanwhile, Food Poisoning Bulletin points out that listeria, which can be found in soil, water, and decaying plant matter, grows well in cool, damp environments, with the high-humidity environment required to grow mushrooms offering “ideal conditions for bacterial growth.”
On Nov. 17, the CDC announced that enoki mushrooms have been linked to another listeria outbreak, which has sickened and hospitalized two people—one in Michigan and one in Nevada. Both individuals reported eating enoki mushrooms or eating at restaurants with menu items that had enoki mushrooms.
On the same day of the CDC’s announcement, the FDA shared that Green Day Produce Inc recalled its 7.5-ounce packages of enoki mushrooms because of potential listeria contamination. The agency told Consumer Reports that “this brand doesn’t appear to be related” to the listeria outbreak the CDC reported. No illnesses connected to the consumption of the Green Day Produce enoki mushrooms have been reported to date.
Symptoms of a listeria infection can include high fever, severe headache, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain, and diarrhea. While healthy individuals may only experience short-term symptoms, the bacteria can cause “serious and sometimes fatal infections” in young children, frail or elderly people, and individuals with weakened immune systems.