Listeria Fears Prompt Expansion of Cantaloupe Recall

The recent cantaloupe recall for possible Listeria contamination initiated by Burch Equipment LLC, of North Carolina, has been expanded to include an additional 13888 cases of whole Athena variety cantaloupes, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) just announced.

The Athena cases are packaged with nine cantaloupes per case for a total of 581 bins of 110 cantaloupes per bin. In all, 188,902 cantaloupes have been recalled over potential contamination with the Listeria monocytogenes pathogen.

The recalled, whole Athena variety cantaloupes were shipped July 15-27 and distributed to retail stores in Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, North Carolina, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Virginia. The whole cantaloupes bear a red label reading “Burch Farms” and referencing “PLU # 4319.” All of the recalled cantaloupes were grown by Burch Farms and shipped to retail establishments in both corrugated boxes (nine cantaloupes per case) and bulk bins. Some cantaloupes may be identified with a “Cottle Strawberry, Inc.” sticker referencing “PLU #4319.” Cottle Farms is not involved in this recall. The Athena variety cantaloupe is typically grown in the east.

As we mentioned earlier this week, grocery store owners should be aware that the FDA also learned that the original recalled cantaloupes were packed into sweet potato cartons. Also, as we mentioned, the first recall involved cantaloupes shipped to New York and Maine.

The agency and the North Carolina Department of Agriculture are collaborating with Burch Equipment LLC following a random sample of an Athena variety cantaloupe that tested positive for Listeria monocytogenes. The recall’s expansion is based on unsanitary conditions found at the cantaloupe packing shed during the FDA’s ongoing inspection. These unsanitary conditions may allow for contamination of cantaloupes with Listeria monocytogenes.

Burch Equipment LLC requests that consumers in possession of the recalled cantaloupes to discard the produce. Burch Equipment LLC may be reached at 1.910.267.5781, Monday through Friday, from 9:00am to 4:00pm, or by email to burch@intrstar.net.

We previously wrote that, following a headline-making deadly Listeria poisoning outbreak last year involving cantaloupes, Colorado cantaloupe growers were working hard to regain their consumer base. That massive outbreak spanned 28 states in what a Congressional committee described as the “deadliest food-borne occurrence in 25 years.” According to the report, 146 people were sickened; one woman suffered a miscarriage, another four illnesses involved pregnant women, and one newborn was diagnosed with listeriosis, the infection caused by the Listeria pathogen.

That Listeria outbreak originated with Jensen Farms having ignored FDA guidelines and involved four different Listeria strains. In that case, the Congressional investigation 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, among other violations. Jensen Farms has since filed for bankruptcy.

No illnesses have been reported in connection with the recent recalled cantaloupes; however, as we’ve long explained, the Listeria pathogen is unique because it thrives in colder temperatures, such as those found in refrigerated environments. Listeria also has an unusually long incubation period—up to 70 days, according to experts. The pathogen also well tolerates heat and dry temperatures, adding further challenges to the pathogen’s eradication and length to expected reporting time frames.

Listeria monocytogenes can lead to the listeriosis infection, a potentially fatal disorder that can cause high fever; severe headache, neck stiffness, abdominal cramps and pain, diarrhea, and nausea, especially in those with weakened immune systems, infants, and the elderly. Vulnerable populations, such as the developing fetus, can suffer serious central nervous system problems. The infection can also prompt premature births, or the death of the fetus via miscarriage and stillbirth; pregnant women are 20 times likelier to become infected. Listeriosis can lead to hearing loss or brain damage in newborns, and to neurological effects and cardio respiratory failure in adults.

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