FDA: Dirty Conditions Likely to Blame for Listeria
Outbreak at Cantaloupe Farm10/19/11
WEDNESDAY, Oct. 19 (HealthDay News) -- The listeria outbreak
traced to cantaloupes produced at a Colorado farm that has been
blamed for 25 deaths so far seems to have been caused by unsanitary
conditions at the farm, U.S. officials said Wednesday.
Inspections on Sept. 22 and 23 by federal and state authorities
at the Jensen Farms packing facility in Granada found "unsanitary
conditions where the [fruit] may have become adulterated," Sherri
McGarry, senior advisor at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's
CORE Network, said during a news conference.
Inspectors said the layout of the farm's packing facility
allowed water to pool on the floor, making it hard to clean the
floor and the equipment used to pack the melons -- and that could
have served as a conduit for the germ to latch onto the fruit.
In addition, Jensen Farms did not cool its cantaloupes before
placing them in cold storage, which may have caused condensation
promoting the growth of listeria, McGarry said.
"We have no reason to believe, at this time, that these practices are indicative of practices throughout the industry," she said.
The plant, which was registered with the FDA in 2010, had never
been inspected and was not due to be inspected for five to seven
years, she added.
"The tragic deaths and illness from this outbreak have again demonstrated the need to continually address and improve food-safety practices," U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg said at the news conference.
Associated Press said messages left for the farm's owners
were not immediately returned.
The health toll from the listeria outbreak now stands at 123
people sickened across 26 states, the U.S. Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention reported late Tuesday.
The agency said that even though the cantaloupes in question
were recalled in mid-September, more cases might still emerge since
Listeria monocytogenes infection has a long lag time between
diagnosis and laboratory confirmation "and also because up to two
months can elapse between eating contaminated food and developing
The listeriosis-linked deaths have occurred in Colorado (6),
Indiana (1), Kansas (2), Louisiana (2), Maryland (1), Missouri (1),
Nebraska (1), New Mexico (5), New York (2), Oklahoma (1), Texas (2)
and Wyoming (1). The people who have died ranged in age from 48 to
96, the CDC said.
One pregnant woman who contracted the illness had a miscarriage,
the CDC said.
Pennsylvania has reported its first case of infection, the
agency said Tuesday.
On Sept. 14, the agency announced that Jensen Farms had
voluntarily recalled its Rocky Ford-brand cantaloupes and the
produce was "now off store shelves." Consumers -- especially older
adults, people with weakened immune systems and pregnant women --
should discard this brand of cantaloupe if it is in their
refrigerator, the agency said. Other brands of cantaloupe are safe
to consume, however.
At a recent news conference, CDC Director Dr. Thomas R. Frieden
called the cantaloupe-linked outbreak "the deadliest outbreak of a
foodborne disease that we've identified in more than a decade."
Unlike other bacteria, listeria can flourish in colder
temperatures. So, "if you've got a contaminated cantaloupe in your
refrigerator, the listeria will continue to grow," Frieden said.
"That's one of the reasons why we may see continued cases from
cantaloupe already in people's refrigerators in the days and weeks
Although listeria tends to infect fewer people, it is typically
deadlier than other foodborne germs and disproportionately affects
the elderly, newborns, pregnant women and anyone with a weakened
immune system. People can develop meningitis from the organism, but
many people only experience milder diarrhea.
According to the CDC, some 1,600 cases are reported annually in
the United States, resulting in 260 deaths.
The bacterium tends to grow in soil and water. But animals can
also carry the germ and pass it on to humans through meats, dairy
products and other foods of animal origins. Most listeria outbreaks
are from animal products, not produce, the CDC said.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on
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