Death Toll From Cantaloupe Listeria Outbreak Still Climbing

The death toll from last year’s cantaloupe Salmonella outbreak continues to climb, months after the first illness was reported.

We recently wrote that the Listeria cantaloupe outbreak, at last count, killed 30 and sickened 146, causing 142 hospitalizations and at least one miscarriage. The outbreak originated with a cantaloupe producer that ignored U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidelines, spread to 28 states, and involved four different Listeria monocytogenes strains.

A Congressional investigation on which we previously wrote, revealed that the massive outbreak might have been avoided had Jensen Farms of Holly, Colorado, followed U.S. guidelines that say fruit should be washed in chlorinated water. Jensen Farms also did not have new, FDA-recommended processing equipment, said the House Energy and Commerce Committee report.

Now, wrote MSNBC, a plaintiff attorney announced that four more people have died after ongoing illnesses following consumption of the tainted fruit last summer. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), meanwhile, say that it has been notified of just two more deaths linked to the outbreak. According to the CDC, the two deaths took place “well before” the CDC’s “final” report issued December 8, but were logged after, said Lola Russell, a CDC spokeswoman, wrote MSNBC.

According to the lawyer, said MSNBC, Paul Schwarz, 92, Kansas City, Missouri; Sharon Jones, 62, Castle Rock, Colorado; Mike Hauser, 68, Monument, Colorado; and Dale L. Braddock, 79, Omaha, Nebraska, all allegedly died after falling ill with Listeriosis, the infection caused by the Listeria pathogen.

“It can be unclear whether a death is directly related to infection with Listeria when a patient dies many weeks or months after first becoming ill with Listeria infection, especially if the patient was elderly or had serious medical conditions that also can lead to death,” Russell wrote. “The count of outbreak-related deaths is not final and may still change,” she added, said MSNBC. Russell did not provide details on the two deaths.

In addition to the one pregnant woman suffering a miscarriage as a result of the cantaloupe Listeria poisoning outbreak, four illnesses involved pregnant women, and one newborn was diagnosed with listeriosis. Lawsuits are being filed against Jensen Farms; Frontera Produce Ltd. was named in at least one lawsuit, and the outbreak could lead to criminal charges, with the farm’s owners potentially facing prosecution.

We previously explained that dirty equipment and unsanitary conditions and practices were blamed for contaminating whole or pre-cut Rocky Ford-brand cantaloupes from Jensen Farms. Although the FDA was unable to 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.” FoodProductionDaily.com previously noted that a third-party auditor, which conduced yearly inspections at Jensen Farms in 2010-2011, was criticized for not following FDA inspection guidance.

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