Unsanitary equipment blamed for deadly listeria outbreak

Cantaloupes rotting in the Jensen Farms fields in Colorado
Daylife/AP Photo used by permission

Potentially contaminated processing equipment and problems with packing and storage of whole cantaloupes at a Colorado farm likely led to the deadliest listeria outbreak in the United States in 25 years, which has so far claimed 25 lives in a dozen states…

Pools of water on the floor of the Jensen Farms packing facility in Granada, Colo., equipment that was not easily cleaned and sanitized and failure to cool newly harvested cantaloupes before sending them to cold storage all contributed to the outbreak, the first-ever listeria contamination blamed on whole melons, federal Food and Drug Administration officials said Wednesday…

Investigators tested fruit samples and equipment from Jensen Farms and confirmed the presence of four outbreak strains of the listeria monocytogenes bacteria confirmed in the illnesses and deaths.

The FDA said Jensen Farms, which is based in Holly, Colo., had recently bought used equipment that was corroded and hard to clean. For example, the equipment used to wash and dry cantaloupe showed signs of dirt and product build-up, even after it had been disassembled, cleaned and sanitzed, the FDA’s report said. The equipment had been previously used to process raw potatoes, officials said, which could have left listeria bacteria behind.

In addition, a truck used to haul culled cantaloupe to a cattle operation was parked near the facility and could have introduced contamination to the facility, investigators said. Low levels of listeria in the field also could have introduced the bacteria into the packing facility. And the design of the plant allowed stagnant water to pool on the floor. The FDA had not inspected the farm before the Sept. 10 session that first detected listeria problems…

The outbreak has claimed lives in a dozen states, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. They include six in Colorado, five in New Mexico, two each in Kansas, Louisiana, New York and Texas and one each in Indiana, Maryland, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Wyoming…

Four illnesses were related to pregnancy, including a newborn who fell ill. One miscarriage has been reported.

Rest assured our elected officials are on top of the situation. Between Congress, the White House, the bureaucrats within the Food and Drug Administration and the US Department of Agriculture — the company has been mailed a warning letter detailing violations.


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