Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), the only microbiologist in Congress, said on Wednesday that the FDA recall of Burch Equipment cantaloupes for possible Listeria monocytogenes contamination was prompted by the Microbiological Data Program. That program, which was almost ended July 1, 2012, is in danger of closing. UPDATE: The Burch recall has just been expanded.
“Today’s announcement reinforces MDP’s value and the need to continue the program that supports roughly 80 percent of produce sampling in America,” DeLauro said in a statement. “Just a year after the deadliest outbreak in a decade [the Jensen Farms cantaloupe Listeria outbreak], it is encouraging that no illnesses have been reported in the latest event. However, we must remain vigilant and invest in the programs and agencies that keep American families safe to prevent an outbreak like last year’s.”
There are differences between the current recall and last year’s outbreak. The Jensen Farms recall was triggered after people became ill and an outbreak was declared. On September 2, 2011, the Colorado Department of Health notified the CDC that seven people were ill with listeriosis. More people were reported ill that same week, and the government announced that cantaloupes were the likely cause of the illness. On September 11, 2011, Jensen Farms was pinpointed as the source of the contaminated fruit.
The current recall was announced before any illnesses were reported. But there may still be an outbreak, since human beings can be infected long before the symptoms of listeriosis manifest. It can take as long as 70 days, but more commonly 1 to 3 weeks, until symptoms appear after an infection. That’s why it’s important that anyone who ate cantaloupe who becomes ill with the symptoms of listeriosis through September, 2012 visit a healthcare provider and tell them they ate cantaloupe.
And that is why the Microbiological Data Program is so important. Rep. DeLauro states, “it is the only program dedicated to improving our understanding of bacterial contamination in produce.”