The Food Journal and Food, Nutrition & Science

An alliance between The Lempert Report and The Center for Food Integrity

Cantaloupe Safety Update

Cantaloupe Safety Update

In the News

October 30, 2011

As of October 24, 2011, there have been 133 reported cases of Listeria monocytogenes in 26 states. Twenty-eight people have died. The reported illnesses are thought to have come from the consumption of contaminated cantaloupes. In response to the outbreak, the Colorado-based Jensen Farms voluntarily recalled its Rocky Ford-brand cantaloupes on September 14, 2011. Jensen Farms is cooperating with the FDA to ensure that the recalled cantaloupes are promptly removed from the marketplace. Cantaloupes that did not come from Jensen Farms are still considered safe to eat.

Cantaloupes affected by the recall were distributed to wholesalers and distributors in 24 states. Since it is possible that some of those operations further distributed the recalled fruit to processors, it is possible that additional products containing Jensen Farms cantaloupes will be recalled. 

The cantaloupes in question may be labeled: Colorado Grown, Distributed by Frontera Produce, USA, Pesticide Free, Jensenfarms.com, Sweet Rocky Fords (http://www.fda.gov/Safety/Recalls/ucm271882.htm). Not all of the recalled cantaloupes are labeled with a sticker. Consumers should consult the retailer if they have questions about the origin of a cantaloupe. Those with potentially affected items have been asked to throw away the product or return it to the store.

This is the first time a Listeria monocytogenes outbreak has been reportedly linked to whole cantaloupe. Foods that typically have been associated with foodborne 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 foodborne illness outbreaks related to consumption of sprouts in 2009 and fresh-cut celery in 2010.
 
Because of this unusual circumstance, FDA’s newly formed Coordinated Outbreak Response and Evaluation (CORE) Network is working with FDA Districts, CDC, the States and other regulatory partners to determine the circumstances that likely caused the implicated cantaloupe to be contaminated. So far, Listeria monocytogenes have been found in samples of Jensen Farms’ Rocky Ford-brand cantaloupe taken from a Denver-area store and on samples taken from equipment and cantaloupe at the Jensen Farms’ packing facility. The FDA is also exploring what could be done differently to prevent future outbreaks.

Persons infected with Listeria monocytogenes usually develop fever and muscle aches. Severe cases can even result in death. Up to two months can elapse between eating contaminated food and developing Listeriosis. The elderly, pregnant women, and those with impaired immune systems are more likely to develop the illness after exposure. Antibiotic treatment may be necessary in certain cases.

To prevent illness, retailers can advise their customers to avoid eating recalled cantaloupes or items containing recalled cantaloupes. They can also encourage consumers to store their cantaloupes at ≤40 degrees F at all times, for no more than seven days. Cut melons left at room temperature for more than four hours should be discarded. Before and after contact with a cantaloupe (or any other melon), hands and cooking utensils should be washed. Another tip? Scrubs the surface of melons with a clean produce brush and dry them with a clean cloth or paper towel before cutting.

U.S cantaloupe production in 2010 was 1.88 billion pounds, down from 1.92 billion during the same period in 2009. Currently, the top five cantaloupe producing states are California, Arizona, Georgia, Colorado and Indiana. California produced the most in 2010 at 1.09 billion pounds – that’s 83.1% of the market share. Colorado, where Jensen Farms is based, produced 2.8% at .039 billion pounds. Farm prices for cantaloupes were 14.60 cents per pound in August 2011, down from 16.70 cents per pound in 2010. The U.S. advertised retail price for cantaloupes was $2.14 each in August 2011, which is 2% below the 2008-2010 average.

For a full list of recent Listeriosis outbreaks, including those associated with cantaloupes, visit: http://www.cdc.gov/listeria/outbreaks/index.html.