April 23, 2014

Three Outbreaks Linked to Cantaloupe in Last 19 Months

As we wait for more information about the Salmonella Typhimurium outbreak linked to cantaloupes grown in Indiana, let’s look back at the outbreaks caused by this fruit in the 19 months. In 2011 and 2012, there have been three outbreaks of foodborne illness linked to cantaloupe.

This fruit is more likely to be contaminated because the thick webbed skin provides lots of places for bacteria to hide, and because the fruit lies directly on the ground while it is growing. Animals, contaminated irrigation water, improper handling, and unsanitary conditions on the farm and in packing sheds can contaminate the fruit. In fact, according to the FDA, from 1996 to 2008, there were 10 nationwide outbreaks linked to melons that caused 507 illnesses and two deaths.

In the spring of 2011, 20 people were infected with the outbreak strain of Salmonella Panama. Three people were hospitalized; no deaths were reported. The patients lived in Arizona (1), California (2), Colorado (1), Maryland (1), Montana (1), Nevada (1), Oregon (6), Pennsylvania (1), Utah (1) and Washington (5). Product traceback information found that the cantaloupes came from a single farm in Guatemala.

In the summer of 2011, 146 people were sickened by the outbreak strain of Listeria monocytogenes after eating cantaloupes grown and processed at Jensen Farms in Colorado. At least 30 people died in this outbreak, and one woman suffered a miscarriage. The case patients lived in these states: Alabama (1), Arkansas (1), California (4), Colorado (40), Idaho (2), Illinois (4), Indiana (3), Iowa (1), Kansas (11), Louisiana (2), Maryland (1), Missouri (7), Montana (1), Nebraska (6), Nevada (1), New Mexico (15), New York (2), North Dakota (2), Oklahoma (12), Oregon (1), Pennsylvania (1), South Dakota (1), Texas (18), Utah (1), Virginia (1), West Virginia (1), Wisconsin (2), and Wyoming (4).  The people who died lived in these states: Colorado (8), Indiana (1), Kansas (3), Louisiana (2), Maryland (1), Missouri (3), Nebraska (1), New Mexico (5), New York (2), Oklahoma (1), Texas (2), and Wyoming (1).

Even though Jensen Farms passed the audit conducted by a third-party auditor, the facility had “several major deficiencies”. The melons were not pre-cooled, the water used to wash the melons was not chlorinated, and processing equipment was designed to wash potatoes, which are cooked before eating. Anyone who intends to assert a claim against Jensen farms must file by September 14, 2012, according to the United States Bankruptcy Court.

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The current outbreak is caused by Salmonella Typhimurium, and is linked to cantaloupes grown in southwestern Indiana. The CDC has formally announced the outbreak, which has sickened at least 141 people in 20 states. At least 31 people are hospitalized; 2 people in Kentucky have died.

The government has not yet named the farm that grew and processed and melons, and has not named grocery stores and other facilities which have sold the fruit. The case patients live in these states: Alabama (7), Arkansas (3), California (2), Georgia (1), Illinois (17), Indiana (13), Iowa (7), Kentucky (50), Michigan (6), Minnesota (3), Missouri (9), Mississippi (2), New Jersey (1), North Carolina (3), Ohio (3), Pennsylvania (2), South Carolina (3), Tennessee (6), Texas (1), and Wisconsin (2).

Fred Pritzker, national food safety attorney, has called on the FDA to issue mandatory industry guidelines for melon growers and to enforce them with audits.  “How many more people have to get sick and die before this hazard is addressed?” he asks. “We need more than non-binding safety recommendations for cantaloupe growing, handling, processing, and distribution.” We’ll keep you informed as more information becomes available.

Comments

  1. Erica Montoya says:

    So what your asserting with jensen that because potatoes are cooked it’s ok to be contaminated? What about beef or chicken it’s all ok because it’s cooked? Oh yeah it doesn’t get recalled!! What a stupid comment to make get your stories straight before reporting!!!

    • Linda Larsen says:

      The comment was hardly “stupid”; it was actually informed. Yes, because potatoes are cooked before they are eaten the cleaning process in packing sheds isn’t as thorough. And it’s perfectly legal to sell chicken or beef contaminated with Listeria, Campylobacter and Salmonella because it is cooked before eating. It’s only after someone gets sick that those contaminated products are considered adulterated and recalled. Please educate yourself by reading this article about this issue. And this article explains why using machines that were made to clean potatoes to clean cantaloupe created a problem. Unfortunately, a lot of food safety onus is put on the consumer to make sure food is cooked to the correct, safe internal temperature before it’s eaten.

      • Erica Montoya says:

        Are you kidding me? You write this blog and don’t know the facts!!! Listeria in the US is zero tolerance in all products! So you are trying to say if the cantaloupe had a label cook to 180 degrees before eating it would have been legal? If you are going to write stories that you know nothing about I suggest you do more research!!

        • Linda Larsen says:

          You are completely wrong. Where, exactly, are you getting your “facts”? If you are going to make a claim like that, you’d better back it up with documentation. Here’s an article from the New York Times: “It is not illegal to sell fresh meat or poultry containing most toxic bacteria, like salmonella; they are frequently found on groceries’ meat, and thorough cooking typically kills the pathogens.” The government just this last year declared the Big Six STEC E. coli illegal in meat; before that, only E. coli 0157:H7 was considered an illegal adulterant.

          Neither the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) nor the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will accept any detectable L. monocytogenes in cooked or pasteurized, ready-to-eat food (zero tolerance).

        • Gee, Erica, way to be rude. If you are going to make a claim, back it up. Nobody is going to believe an anonymous internet posting, especially when you’re trying to argue with a food expert.

        • Linda Larsen says:

          This is from the FSIS manual:

          “Two examples of added substances that have been declared to be adulterants in meat products include Listeria monocytogenes (Lm) and E. coli O157:H7. Lm is an example of an adulterant in ready-to-eat (RTE) products. It represents an added substance that renders the product injurious to health. Scientific studies have shown that this pathogen is present in the product due to the way in which product is handled or produced. For example, Lm is typically present in RTE products because of recontamination that occurs during the processing of product, such as through contact with the environment or with plant employees, after an initial lethality treatment has been delivered. This pathogen is considered injurious to health because RTE products are not reheated by consumers before they are eaten. Therefore, if this substance is present, products are very likely to cause injury to human health and can even cause death. The only adulterant in non-intact raw meat or meat products is E. coli O157:H7.

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