CDC Tallies Final Cantaloupe Listeria Toll

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) just issued a final tally on the cantaloupe Listeria outbreak linked to Jensen Farms of Holly, Colorado. As of this final count, said MSNBC, 148 were sickened, 142 people required hospitalization, 30 people died, and one woman suffered a miscarriage in the outbreak that affected 28 states and involved four different Listeria monocytogenes strains.

As we’ve written dirty equipment and unsanitary conditions and practices have been blamed for contaminating whole or pre-cut Rocky Ford-brand cantaloupes from Jensen Farms. Although the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) could not identify the outbreak’s exact cause, it cited violations in sanitary conditions, writing 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 farm’s owners maintain that the packing facility, considered the point of origin, is cleaned routinely; they also claim they do not understand how the pathogen ended up on its equipment. The outbreak has led to a recall of over 300,000 cases of Jensen whole Rocky Ford cantaloupes. The outbreak is considered the worst Listeria outbreak in California history, said MSNBC.

Of those who fell ill, 140 provided information regarding the foods they ate and 94% of those said they had eaten cantaloupe in the month prior to falling ill; many of those individuals said they consumed cantaloupe from a specific region in southeastern Colorado, according to the CDC. The cantaloupe was shipped to about 24 states from July 29 through September 10.

As we’ve written, the outbreak could lead to criminal charges, with the farm’s owners potentially facing prosecution. Federal prosecutors are looking for evidence of willful negligence so that the cases can be elevated to felony status charges worthy of pursuing, say legal analysts. To prove a felony, knowledge of danger must be proven. Agricultural experts who have talked with the Jensen family say the family thought changes it made in 2011 would ensure the melons would be safer. The Jensens have not commented.

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and FDA officials have not said if a criminal probe is in place against Jensen Farms and it remains unclear if Jensen Farms officials will be mandated to testify in front of a Congressional panel on the matter; however, members of the Energy and Commerce sub-committee previously requested a hearing.

In addition to the one pregnant woman who suffered a miscarriage as a result of Listeria poisoning, four illnesses in this outbreak involved pregnant women and one newborn was diagnosed with listeriosis, the infection caused by the Listeria pathogen.

Meanwhile, the family of an 89-year- Texas woman filed a negligence lawsuit against Jensen Farms, alleging that her death was the result of consuming Listeria-tainted Jensen Cantaloupe. Frontera Produce Ltd. was also named in the lawsuit.

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