Cantaloupe Listeria Outbreak Toll Rises Again

The list of dead linked to the nationwide Jensen Farm cantaloupe Listeria outbreak has risen to 28, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The outbreak is being described as the deadliest foodborne <"">Listeria outbreak in the United States in over two decades.

Whole or pre-cut Rocky Ford-brand cantaloupes from Colorado’s Jensen Farms are to blame, said Reuters, in an outbreak that spans 26 states and has sickened 133 people. As we’ve noted, a pregnant woman suffered a miscarriage as a result of Listeria poisoning, according to the CDC.

Four illnesses involved in this outbreak involved pregnant women, who are the most susceptible to the Listeria monocytogenes pathogen. Three other women became ill while pregnant and one newborn was diagnosed with listeriosis, the infection caused by the Listeria pathogen.

Dirty equipment has been blamed for the deadly Jensen cantaloupe Listeria outbreak that involves four different strains of the dangerous Listeria monocytogenes bacteria.

Although the FDA could not identify the exact cause of the outbreak, it did cite violations in sanitary conditions that require resolution, according to its letter to Granada Colorado’s Jensen Farms.

The FDA letter stated that tests revealed “widespread contamination throughout your facility and indicates poor sanitary practices in the facility.” One probable cause, said the FDA, was packing equipment that “was not easily cleaned and sanitized” as well as washing and drying equipment and other raw agricultural commodities.

As we’ve mentioned, Jensen cantaloupe are harvested from the field and moved to a packing shed for washing prior to shipping; moisture could be a culprit in the massive outbreak. According to the farm’s owners, the packing facility, now considered the deadly outbreak’s point of origin, is cleaned routinely; the owners maintain that they don’t know how Listeria ended up on equipment there.

The FDA said in a statement that the facility lacked a “pre-cooling step” meant to remove field heat from the produce prior to cold storage, which could have caused condensation during the cooling process that promoted Listeria monocytogenes’ growth. Unlike many other foodborne pathogens, Listeria thrives in cold conditions.

The FDA’s October 18th letter to Jensen Farms also stated that, “These positive swabs were taken from different locations throughout the washing and packing areas in your facility, all of which were either food contact surfaces or areas adjacent to food contact surfaces…. This significant percentage of swabs that tested positive for outbreak strains of Listeria monocytogenes demonstrates widespread contamination throughout your facility and indicates poor sanitary practices in the facility.”

The incubation period for listeriosis can be as long as two months and is particularly virulent to vulnerable populations such as pregnant women, the developing fetus, the very young, the elderly, and people with compromised immune systems, such as those undergoing chemotherapy or who have been diagnosed with HIV/AIDs.

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