In response to the recent cantaloupe Listeria outbreak, cantaloupe growers are seeking increased regulation. The industry is aiming it efforts at minimizing negative perceptions connected to contaminated Jensen Family Farms cantaloupe, which was blamed for the Listeria outbreak.
U.S. produce industry associations plan to create food safety guidelines specific to cantaloupe, said FoodProductionDaily.com, according to a private meeting hosted by the Center for Produce Safety (CPS) and with the Western Growers Association, the United Fresh Produce Association, the Produce Marketing Association, and other regional trade groups. The groups were hoping to determine possible food safety gaps concerning cantaloupes and to create new risk-based guidance by month-end and for inclusion in its annual February 1st research proposal request.
The groups identified three areas on which to focus, including the development and validation of treatments to minimize cantaloupe surface microbial levels; a better understanding of Listeria’s prevalence in the produce industry; and research to determine how bacteria survive on equipment, food surfaces, and produce, said FoodProductionSafety.com. The negative financial impact to the cantaloupe industry following the recent outbreak was also discussed, said FoodProductionDaily.com.
“Making quick decisions is crucial, and it was the same in Europe after the 2011 sprouted seeds contamination. The whole industry surrounding the produce is affected, its reputation is shaken, and this can begin to lag behind in terms of sales,” Frederic Rosseneu, director of food quality at Freshfel, told FoodProductionDaily.com. “A strong signal is needed to show that work is being done to combat any problems,” Rosseneu added.
The Listeria cantaloupe outbreak killed 30 and sickened 146, causing 142 hospitalizations and at least one miscarriage. The outbreak originated with a cantaloupe producer that ignored U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidelines and spread to 28 states and involved four different Listeria monocytogenes strains.
As we just wrote, a Congressional investigation revealed that the massive outbreak might have been avoided had Jensen Farms of Holly, Colorado, followed U.S. guidelines that say fruit should be washed in chlorinated water, the Associated Press (AP) reported. Jensen Farms also did not have new, FDA-recommended processing equipment, said the House Energy and Commerce Committee report.
In addition to the one pregnant woman suffering a miscarriage as a result of Listeria poisoning, four illnesses involved pregnant women, and one newborn was diagnosed with listeriosis, the infection caused by the Listeria pathogen. Also, the family of an 89-year-old Texas woman filed a negligence lawsuit against Jensen Farms, alleging her death was the result of consuming Listeria-tainted Jensen Cantaloupe. Frontera Produce Ltd. was named in the lawsuit. The outbreak could lead to criminal charges, with the farm’s owners potentially facing prosecution.
We previously explained that dirty equipment and unsanitary conditions and practices have been blamed for contaminating whole or pre-cut Rocky Ford-brand cantaloupes from Jensen Farms. Although the FDA could not identify the outbreak’s exact cause, it cited violations in sanitary conditions, writing 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.”
FoodProductionDaily.com noted that a third-party auditor, which conduced yearly inspections at Jensen Farms in 2010-2011, was criticized for not following FDA inspection guidance.