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Tainted celery sickens at least 6 in Texas; 4 die

Texas health officials have shut down a processing plant linked to contaminated celery that sickened at least six people this year, four of whom died, and led to the recall of all of the produce that passed through the plant since January.

SanGar Produce & Processing Co. issued the recall Wednesday after its plant in San Antonio was shuttered. The Texas Department of State Health Services traced six of 10 known cases of listeriosis in the state during an eight month period to celery processed there. The agency is investigating the origins of the other four cases, which include one death.

Health officials on Thursday were trying to determine how much potentially tainted produce passed through the plant since January and whether it could have ended up in other products. Some of the celery was grown in California, but there appeared to be no problem with it until it reached the SanGar plant, health department spokeswoman Carrie Williams said.

Health officials say the produce was sold to restaurants, schools and hospitals, but that they don't believe it was sold in grocery stores.

"We know their customers include schools and hospitals. It was absolutely crucial that we protect these populations," Williams said.

The 10 people who contracted listeriosis were in Bexar, Travis and Hidalgo counties, in central and southern parts of the state. Williams said the agency has no information so far that the recalled produce — which also includes lettuce, pineapple and honeydew — were distributed outside of Texas.

"We know other products are chopped at the plant on the same line," Williams said.

On its website, SanGar says that "indirectly through several of our customers, our products are distributed in the Rio Grande Valley, Houston, Dallas and Oklahoma."

There have been three reported cases of listeriosis in Oklahoma this year, but the state is not aware of any cases connected to the recall, Oklahoma State Department of Health spokesman Larry Weatherford said.

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