Malaysia bans imports of Gala, Granny Smith apples from the US

The Ministry of Agriculture and Agro-based Industry has barred the import of Gala and Granny Smith apples from the United States into Malaysia. -- ST PHOTO: ALAN LIM
The Ministry of Agriculture and Agro-based Industry has barred the import of Gala and Granny Smith apples from the United States into Malaysia. -- ST PHOTO: ALAN LIM

BERA - Malaysia has stopped the import of two brands of apples from California because of fears that they could be tainted with the Listeriosis bacteria, reported Malaysian media.

Agriculture minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob  said the ministry had received a notice from the US authorities that the Gala red apples and Granny Smith green apples from California were suspected to be contaminated with the bacteria, reported New Straits Times.

"The ministry will stop the import of the affected apples while the Health Ministry will check those already in the local market," he said on Saturday. He added that his ministry had no jurisdiction to recall apples that were already in Malaysia as this involved food nutrition, which is regulated by the Health Ministry.

Malaysia's Health Ministry said it had conducted tests on the apples from California-based Bidart Bros at all entry points in Malaysia. The ministry's director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said the ministry had identified two importers of the apples in Malaysia, and had directed them to recall the apples.

Consumption of food tainted with the bacteria could cause high fever, severe headache, neck stiffness, nausea and in severe cases, death. 

The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore told Zaobao in comments published on Sunday that Singapore does not import the affected batches of apples from the US.

In Thailand, local authorities have already seized a shipment of US apples from the 2014 harvest, and health officials are examining shipments at agriculture shipment checkpoints in the country, the Bangkok Post reported. The Philippines, too, has issued advisories recalling imported Gala and Granny Smith apples from the US, reported Xinhua news agency.

Bidart Bros said the last shipment date of the affected apples was on Dec 2, reported Los Angeles Times.

The affected apples were sold under the names Big Big and Granny’s Best, but the company says they could also be sold under other brand names, or with no name. Consumers were being advised to ask fruit sellers if their Granny Smith or Gala apples came from Bidart Bros.

The US Food and Drug Administration found two strains of Listeria monocytogenes, a bacteria that causes listeriosis, at the company's processing plant in Bakersfield. It has determined that the plant was a supplier of the contaminated apples used to make the affected caramel apples, reported Los Angeles Times.

The packaged caramel apples were at the centre of a recent listeria outbreak that resulted in the deaths of several people in the US.