Earlier this week I was grocery shopping at Wegman's and I realized the cantaloupe section had an overabundance of produce. I'd heard about the Listeria outbreak online, and wondered if the scare had kept potential buyers to steer clear of the fruit. A few days later I went back to Wegman's (because I always forget something the first time I go) and Wegman's had put up a sign letting consumers know that their cantaloupes did not come from the farm (or even the state) that caused the Listeria outbreak.
Everytime there is a a food recall, and it seems there are dozens every year, people panic and won't purchase the food from anywhere. For example, if there is a spinach recall in Quebec, no one will touch it for months in the U.S. We become frightened.
Here are the facts on this last episode according to the FDA about the recent cantaloupe recall from Jensen Farms in the southwest region of Colorado:
"Updated October 21, 2011
On September 10, 2011, FDA, along with Colorado state officials, conducted an inspection at Jensen Farms and collected multiple samples, including whole cantaloupes and environmental (non-product) samples from within the facility, for laboratory analysis to identify the presence of Listeria monocytogenes. Of the 39 environmental swabs collected from within the facility, 13 were confirmed positive for Listeria monocytogenes with pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) pattern combinations that were indistinguishable from three of the four outbreak strains collected from affected patients. Of the 13 positive environmental swabs, 12 were collected at the processing line and 1 was collected from the packing area. Cantaloupe collected from the firm’s cold storage during the inspection was also confirmed positive for Listeria monocytogenes with PFGE pattern combinations that were indistinguishable from two of the four outbreak strains.
As a result of the isolation of outbreak strains of Listeria monocytogenes in the environment of the packing facility and whole cantaloupes collected from cold storage, and the fact that this is the first documented listeriosis outbreak associated with fresh, whole cantaloupe in the United States, FDA initiated an environmental assessment in conjunction with Colorado state and local officials. FDA, state, and local officials conducted the environmental assessment at Jensen Farms on September 22-23, 2011. The environmental assessment was conducted to gather more information to assist FDA in identifying the factors that potentially contributed to the introduction, growth, or spread of the Listeria monocytogenes strains that contaminated the cantaloupe.
FDA identified the following factors as those that most likely contributed to the introduction, spread, and growth of Listeria monocytogenes in the cantaloupes:
There could have been low level sporadic Listeria monocytogenes in the field where the cantaloupe were grown, which could have been introduced into the packing facility
A truck used to haul culled cantaloupe to a cattle operation was parked adjacent to the packing facility and could have introduced contamination into the facility
The packing facility’s design allowed water to pool on the floor near equipment and employee walkways
The packing facility floor was constructed in a manner that made it difficult to clean
The packing equipment was not easily cleaned and sanitized; washing and drying equipment used for cantaloupe packing was previously used for postharvest handling of another raw agricultural commodity
There was no pre-cooling step to remove field heat from the cantaloupes before cold storage. As the cantaloupes cooled there may have been condensation that promoted the growth of Listeria monocytogenes
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. FDA recommends that firms employ good agricultural and management practices recommended for the growing, harvesting, washing, sorting, packing, storage and transporting of fruits and vegetables sold to consumers in an unprocessed or minimally processed raw form."
I'm sure the cantaloupe at Wegman's is fine to eat at this time. But no matter what, clean it well before slicing a knife through the rind. Although this wouldn't have saved the lives of the people who consumed the cantaloupe laden with Listeria, it is a safety precaution we should all be aware of.