Listeria outbreak widens, FDA and cantaloupe farms search for answers
The deadly listeria outbreak that federal inspectors say is linked to Colorado-grown cantaloupe continues to expand, leaving many consumers across the country gripped with fear over the bacteria that can incubate within a person for 2 months before any signs of illness appear.
The Associated Press has reported that an elderly woman from the Baton Rouge, Louisiana, area died during the weekend after being diagnosed with listeria. Although it will take at least a week to test whether the strain of bacteria found in the woman matches the strain found on the recalled cantaloupes, the woman’s family says that she did eat cantaloupe two or three weeks before she fell sick.
U.S. Food and Drug investigators say that cantaloupe from Jensen Farms in Holly, Colorado, is to blame for the outbreak, which has caused at least 84 illnesses and as many as 17 deaths in 19 states. The company has recalled more than 300,000 cases of cantaloupe from 20 states (Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Wisconsin, and Wyoming).
Jensen Farms has been owned and operated by the Jensen Family for four generations and has been an important part of the Holly community. According to the AP, “Until the listeria infections started showing up, Holly’s field workers would bring melons into town to share, just as they have for generations. And it wasn’t uncommon for residents to stop by Jensen Farms to buy freshly picked cantaloupe.” Now, Jensen’s cantaloupe farming has ceased and cantaloupes lay in the field, rotting on the vine as FDA inspectors try to figure out how they became infected.
Sherri McGarry, a senior adviser in the FDA’s Office of Foods, told the AP agency inspectors were analyzing the farm’s water supply for clues, looking into the possibility that animals wandered into the cantaloupe fields and infected them, and testing other scenarios. The recall came at a time of severe drought that has turned large parts of the southwest and Midwest into federal disaster areas.
The Jensen Farms’ Facebook page offered an apology for the outbreak and vowed to figure out how listeria ended up on its cantaloupes. “Listeria and it’s presence in the Food Industry is not uncommon, but is uncommon in Cantaloupe – and we are determined to get to the bottom of how and why (and in what concentration) it could have appeared on our melons in the store,” the statement said.