Oct 192011
Authors: Matt Miller and Erin Udell

Federal investigators have identified the factors that most likely lead to a listeria outbreak in Jensen Farms cantaloupes, which at least killed 25 people across the country.

A report from the Food and Drug Administration said Wednesday that low level sporadic listeria monocytogenes could have been in the field where the cantaloupe was grown and could have been brought into the packing facility.

The packing facility’s design allowed water to pool near equipment and employee walkways, the report said. The equipment used for packing was not easily cleaned and sanitized.

The report said the same equipment used for packing cantaloupe was also used for postharvest handling of another commodity.

“FDA’s findings regarding this particular outbreak highlight the importance for firms to employ good agricultural and management practices in their packing facilities as well as in growing fields,” the report said.

The FDA has issued a warning letter to Jensen Farms based on environmental and cantaloupe samples collected during the inspection. The investigation at Jensen Farms is still considered open.

The New York Times reported that the farm passed a food safety audit by an outside contractor days before the outbreak.

Jensen Farms, located in Holly, Colo., issued a recall on Sept. 14, and the cantaloupes were taken off shelves almost immediately.

The CDC recommends consumers not eat whole or pre-cut Rocky Ford-brand cantaloupe from the farm.
This is especially important for older adults, pregnant women, newborns or people with weakened immune systems, said Kristen Nordlund, a spokesperson for the CDC.

“In the United States, an estimated 1,600 persons become seriously ill with listeriosis each year. Of these, 260 die,” Nordlund said in an email to the Collegian. “Listeriosis is a serious infection.”
According to Nordlund, this listeriosis outbreak is unusually large, with only two other cases infecting more people — a frankfurter outbreak in 1998 and a Mexican-style cheese incident in 1985.

News Editors Matt Miller and Erin Udell can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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