Listeria Outbreak Toll Nears Record

The deadly Jensen cantaloupe <"">Listeria outbreak has claimed more victims. Close to becoming record-breaking, the outbreak, which involves four Listeria monocytogenes strains, has now claimed 29 lives and sickened 139 people in 28 states, according to health officials.

As we’ve noted, a pregnant woman also suffered a miscarriage as a result of Listeria poisoning, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Four illnesses involved in this outbreak involved pregnant women, the most susceptible to the Listeria monocytogenes pathogen. Three other women fell ill while pregnant and one newborn was diagnosed with listeriosis, the infection caused by the Listeria pathogen.

Dirty equipment and unsanitary conditions and practices have been blamed for contaminating whole or pre-cut Rocky Ford-brand cantaloupes from Colorado’s Jensen Farms in an outbreak that MSNBC described as the worst since the 1985 California-Listeria outbreak that involved Mexican-style fresh cheese and led to 52 deaths and numerous stillbirths, according to the CDC.

According to New England Journal of Medicine’s 1988 analysis, the adult death toll in this outbreak could match that of the 1985 outbreak in which 28 adults and newborns died and 20 stillbirths or miscarriages were reported, said MSNBC.
Of concern is that the Listeria infection has an unusually long incubation period, up to two months, according to experts. This means, noted MSNBC, that people who ate tainted Jensen cantaloupe two months ago, might only be reporting Listeriosis infections today, according to health officials.

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

Although the FDA could not identify the outbreak’s exact cause, it did cite violations in sanitary conditions. For instance,
the FDA wrote 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.

MSNBC also wrote that it remains unclear if Jensen Farms officials will be mandated to testify in front of a Congressional panel on the matter. Although members of the Energy and Commerce sub-committee requested a hearing no later than tomorrow, a hearing has not yet been scheduled.

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