The Listeria monocytogenes outbreak traced to tainted cantaloupe has claimed the lives of at least 25 people and sickened 98, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) said Oct. 18.
Because the onset of listeriosis can take several weeks, we could still have a few more lingering cases that were exposed before the recall. But in all likelihood, the worst is behind us.
Michael Doyle, PhD, director, Center for Food Safety
The crisis sparked another recall: Fruit Fresh Up of Depew, N.Y., recalled about 4,800 packages of fresh cantaloupe and mixed fruit Oct. 6 because of the potential for contamination. The company was alerted to the contamination risk by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which indicated that the action is part of the larger recall involving cantaloupe produced by Jensen Farms in Colorado and shipped to at least 17 states between July 29 and Sept. 10.
The initial recall was issued Sept. 14, but Fruit Fresh Up told the FDA that it had not learned of the possible contamination in the fruit, which it had obtained from an independent wholesaler rather than directly from Jensen Farms, until Sept. 27. The fruit in the recall was sold between Aug. 31 and Sept. 11, near Buffalo, N.Y.
No illnesses have been linked to the cantaloupes sold by Fruit Fresh Up. The Jensen Farms outbreak has been linked to illnesses in 25 states, the CDC said, including four pregnancy-related instances. A pregnant Iowa woman suffered a miscarriage linked to Listeria infection, according to state health officials.
“This recent situation continues to point to the fact that cantaloupes have been and continue to be a significant food safety hazard, and we need to figure out what’s causing these cantaloupes to become contaminated and how best to prevent it,” said Michael Doyle, PhD, Regents Professor of food microbiology and director of the Center for Food Safety at the University of Georgia in Griffin. “People ask me what I would recommend regarding how to handle cantaloupes and make them safe, and at this point I don’t think I could make recommendations about it.”
This is the first outbreak of Listeria in cantaloupe, Dr. Doyle noted, but he added that previous publications have indicated that eating melons can be associated with listeriosis. “We’ve also had lots of Salmonella problems with cantaloupe,” he said, including an import alert against Guatemalan cantaloupe put in place by the FDA in July that sparked a lawsuit by Del Monte, which was dropped in early October after the ban was lifted. “I think it’s resolvable, but we have to know how the cantaloupe is becoming contaminated and what preventive measures can be taken to prevent that from happening.”
Dr. Doyle predicted that illnesses associated with the Jensen Farms outbreak, the deadliest outbreak of foodborne illness in the U.S. in more than a decade, could still crop up over the next few weeks. “Because the onset of listeriosis can take several weeks, we could still have a few more lingering cases that were exposed before the recall. But in all likelihood, the worst is behind us.”