Sicknesses, Deaths Rise from Tainted Cantaloupe
The Christian Science Monitor headline nailed the topic of today’s discussion: Listeria outbreak: How safe is America’s food chain?
As widely reported, cantaloupes from Jensen Farms in Holly, CO have led to the deadliest foodborne disease outbreak in more than 10 years. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 72 people have been sickened and 16 people have lost their lives in 18 states from eating melons contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.
While the first illnesses began on July 31, it wasn’t until September 14 that the Food and Drug Administration issued a warning for consumers not to eat cantaloupe shipped by Jensen Farms between July 29 and September 10. Jensen Farms has voluntarily recalled all cantaloupe shipped between those dates.
According to an Associated Press report, cantaloupes may include the following labels: Colorado Grown, Distributed by Frontera Produce, Jensenfarms.com or Sweet Rocky Fords. Not all of the recalled cantaloupes are labeled.
“The FDA and CDC really got their minds around this one quickly and have therefore saved many lives and needless infections,” Steve Patricio, chairman of the Center for Produce Safety, told The Christian Science Monitor. “Within record time, they identified the single source and single shipper of contaminated cantaloupes and had the product pulled from stores. I think a big lesson here is that consumers should get their information directly from the CDC and FDA websites rather than from the media, which tend to needlessly escalate the fear.”
The outbreak demonstrates issues surrounding produce inspections, although the same piece points out that voluntary steps taken by the food industry have improved safety in other ways.
Patrick Rose, policy analyst at the University of Maryland Center for Health and Homeland Security, said part of the issue is that most of the attention to food safety has been paid to dairy and meat. “So there is still a gap to fill in terms of our surveillance efforts for produce contaminants,” he told the Monitor.
“The FDA is still lacking better tools to better monitor both locally and internationally imported produce and ensuring that citizens are safe,” Mr. Rose added. “Most importantly, public health outreach is not effective enough for various reasons. The simple remedy of paying better attention to hygiene is not entering our central conscience.”
FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg said the long incubation period for Listeria means more people will get sick.
“We will see more cases likely through October,” Ms. Hamburg told The Associated Press.
- FDA warns consumers not to eat Rocky Ford Cantaloupes shipped by Jensen Farms – U.S. Food and Drug Administration
- Listeria outbreak: How safe is America’s food chain? – Christian Science Monitor
- Illness, Deaths From Listeria-Tainted Cantaloupes Expected to Rise – The Associated Press/TIME Healthland
Discussion Questions: How safe is America’s food supply? What needs to be done to make it safer?