Cantaloupe contamination source confounds F.D.A.

by Keith Nunes
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WASHINGTON — Food and Drug Administration investigators are working to determine how cantaloupes grown by Jensen Farms, Granada, Colo., became contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes. Laboratory testing at Jensen Farms’ packing facility and conducted by the F.D.A. has confirmed the presence of the same strain of Listeria that has led to 13 deaths and 72 illnesses associated with the pathogen.

On Sept. 14, Jensen Farms initiated a recall of its Rocky Ford Cantaloupe that was shipped by the company from July 29 to Sept. 10 and distributed in at least 17 states.

This is the first time a Listeria monocytogenes outbreak has been reportedly linked to whole cantaloupe, according to the F.D.A. Foods that typically have been associated with food-borne outbreaks of Listeriosis are deli meats, hot dogs, and Mexican-style soft cheeses made with unpasteurized milk. Listeriosis has not often been associated with the consumption of fresh produce with the exception of two illness outbreaks related to consumption of sprouts in 2009 and fresh-cut celery in 2010.

Because of this unusual circumstance, the F.D.A.’s newly formed Coordinated Outbreak Response and Evaluation Network is working with the C.D.C., the state public health departments and other regulatory agencies on a root cause analysis to determine where in the supply chain and what circumstances may have caused the implicated cantaloupe to be contaminated. The F.D.A. is exploring whether harvesting and/or post-harvest practices may have contributed to this contamination, as well as what may be done differently to prevent future occurrences.

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