A processing plant linked to contaminated celery has been shut down in Texas as produce from the plant has sickened six people, four of whom have died.
The plant was shut down immediately and all the produce that passed through it since January were recalled, reported the Associated Press.
The San Antonio plant, owned by the SanGar Produce & Processing Company, came into question when the Texas Department of State Health Services traced six of ten known cases of listeriosis in the state during an eight-month period to the celery processed at the plant.
Health inspectors found problems with sanitation, including a condensation leak over a food production area. The health department is currently trying to establish who the now-recalled produce was sold to and whether it was used in other products.
The plant owners were contacted and asked to voluntarily shut down the plant said Department spokeswoman Carrie Williams. Willaims said that "They refused, so we shut them down and ordered a recall."
The company's president Kenneth Sanquist Jr., said in a statement that the state used flawed methods to collect its samples. The sample at the plant "appears" to have been taken by someone not wearing proper lab attire and proper gloves, and was transported in a non-refrigerated container, he said.
Williams rebutted the claims by Sanquist, saying "our experts are well-trained and pull samples according to protocol." She reiterated that her department would not have taken such serious action "had we not been certain."
Some of the tainted celery may have made its way to vulnerable populations, including schoolchildren and hospital patients, said Williams.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 500 people die of listeriosis each year in the US and roughly 2,500 people become seriously ill.