Guest Blog: Dealing in Death – Cantaloupes and Listeria

The following Guest Blog first appeared on Marler Blog, and is reproduced here with the kind permission of its author, Bill Marler.

Dealing in Death – Cantaloupes and Listeria

Since “organicfarmer” posted this comment on Food Safety News last week, I have not been able to shake it from my head:

It’s really sad that farms and farmers are getting the brunt of this. I am sad these people died, but median age of 78…. give me a break. In my opinion there is no possible way to make all food safe for all people. I grow food, take extreme precautions to keep the farm as clean from pathogens as possible, but these bacteria are everywhere in the soil. Advances in science are a double edged sword. People have succumbed from so-called food poisons since the beginning of time. It’s probably good common sense to not eat raw foods if you’re old or have a compromised immune system. Now pathogenic bacteria have been found inside the cells of lettuce. No amount of washing will ‘clean’ it.

Perhaps because I spent most of the last week talking to families whose parents or spouses are fighting for their lives or have died too soon – because they ate a damn cantaloupe – or because I am about to drive out to see by 80 plus year old parents, I find “organicfamer’s” comments insensitive at best.  Certainly his attitude towards the elderly makes me wonder who purchases his farm products?  Frankly, I would take a pass.

Of course his response to me calling him out on his “shit happens” approach to life is to trot out how bad lawyers are and to say about me: “I resent him and all he stands for.”

Dear Mr. unnamed “organicfarmer”, this is what I stand for – people should not be sickened and/or die from eating cantaloupe.  Here is just a sample of people impacted and have the courage to stick up for themselves and other consumers by filing lawsuits – and using their names openly:

William Beach 2.jpegWilliam T. Beach consumed cantaloupe in early August. Mr. Beach subsequently fell ill and on approximately August 28th, was taken to the hospital by ambulance after his wife, Monette, found him collapsed on the living room floor, unable to speak or breathe regularly. Mr. Beach was discharged from the hospital two days later, but his condition worsened and he was again rushed to the hospital, where he died after a failed intubation procedure. The Oklahoma State Department of Health later contacted one of Mr. Beach’s six daughters to inform them that Mr. Beach had tested positive for Listeria and died from his infection.

Clarence Wells.jpegClarence Wells consumed cantaloupe on multiple occasions before becoming ill with symptoms of Listeria infection, including fluid retention, on August 23, 2011. By August 25, Mr. Wells had gained 9 pounds and had begun having difficulty breathing. He was taken to the emergency room, and was admitted to John’s Hopkins Medical Center later that day. On the morning of August 31, Mr. Wells’ condition deteriorated and his family was called to the hospital, where they found him unconscious. They never spoke to him, or saw him awake, again. Mr. Wells died the evening of August 31, 2011.

Gomez copy.jpgJuanita Gomez consumed cantaloupe purchased from a local grocery store in early August. By August 20, Mrs. Gomez became ill and developed a fever. When her symptoms progressed, she was taken to the hospital where her temperature measured 105.6 degrees F, her eyes became glassy, and she was unable to respond to simple questions. Tests later confirmed she had been infected with the same strain of Listeria linked to an ongoing outbreak that has been traced to defendant Jensen Farms’ Rocky Ford cantaloupe. Mrs. Gomez was released from the hospital on August 24 and continues to recover at her home

CharlesPalmerPic.jpegCharles Palmer consumed the Listeria-contaminated cantaloupe in mid-August. He had purchased one whole cantaloupe at the Wal-Mart store located on Razorback Road in Colorado Springs several days before. He fell ill with symptoms of listeriosis, the illness caused by Listeria infection, including headache and fatigue, on August 30. The next morning, Mr. Palmer’s wife found him unresponsive and immediately rushed her husband to the hospital, where he has remained ever since. He has tested positive for Listeria monocytogenes, the strain of Listeria involved in the cantaloupe outbreak.

Herbert Stevens and his wife purchased Jensen Farms-grown Rocky Ford cantaloupe from a Littleton grocery store in early August. On August 24, 84-year-old Mr. Stevens fell ill with symptoms of listeriosis and became incapacitated. He was taken by ambulance to the hospital, where he tested positive for the same strain of Listeria that is involved in the cantaloupe Listeria outbreak. Mr. Stevens remained hospitalized until several days ago, when he was transferred to a long-term care facility. It is not clear if he will be able to return home.

And, “organicfamer” there are dozens of others I spoke to – the family of an 80 year old man who needlessly died in Nebraska and the 56 year old who died in Kansas, or the others who became ill and are struggling to recover, or the ones still in ICU on life support who will soon raise the CDC death toll.

Mr. “organicfarmer,” there are a lot of people who hate me – mostly corporations who poison people – and, honestly, I really do not give a damn.  Mr. “organicfamer” you may hate me along with the Cargills, Doles, et al of the world – you, my friend are in fine company.

About the author: Bill Marler is a personal injury and products liability attorney, and an internationally known food safety advocate. He began litigating foodborne illness cases in 1993, when he represented Brianne Kiner, the most seriously injured survivor of the Jack in the Box E. coli O157:H7 outbreak. Bill is a graduate of the Seattle University School of Law, and the Law School’s “Lawyer in Residence.”

8 thoughts on “Guest Blog: Dealing in Death – Cantaloupes and Listeria

  1. Morning All no like Dear All. I know the pain we all go thrue my Heart gose out too the People who lost there sweet Loved ones who eat this stuff & didn’t know I am deeply hurt even Baby’s & young Chilren have too suffer. I feel for you all in Preyers. Mimi

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  2. I love your blog, you should add instructions for the RSS feed feature so I can get automatic notifications of new blogs. If you can help me set it up please email me! Ii will bookmark you for now. Again Excellent Blog!

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    1. Pellucid, you can click on “RSS – Posts” in the right-hand blog column, and copy and paste the url into your RSS reader. Alternatively, you can use the Email Subscription service to get automatic notifications directly to your email Inbox.

      Thanks for visiting.

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  3. All I can say is ‘wow’; on 2 accounts. First, I can’t believe how callous & unfeeling “organicfarmer” is – totally unbelievable!! And second, what a poignant response Mr. Marler writes. I am definitely one who does NOT hate him, I hope he continues his work and finds what justice he can for those vicitims & their families.

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  4. What is realy frustrating is that we know of technology that has been approved for use in the US that can mitigate such outbreaks. I wonder what scientists feel like who have gotten approval for use of anti-listeria phages on food products?

    SUPERBUGS AND BACTERIOPHAGE THERAPY – GETTING BEYOND TRUTHINESS!
    (PHAGE THERAPY – ON THE THRESHOLD OF LIFE WHERE CHEMISTRY, BIOLOGY, SCIENCE, RELIGIONS AND FICTION MEET TO CONQUER SUPERBUGS)

    Presented by G.W. (Bill) Riedel, PhD, MCIC, Ottawa, at the monthly meeting of the Chemical Institute of Canada, Hawkesbury, Ontario, November 17, 2010.

    Paraphrasing Kermit; ‘it is not easy being a superbug’ because for every bacterium, including superbugs, there are a number of viruses that are just waiting to devour them. These viruses are called bacteriophages or simply phages. The tragedy is that we are too venal to deploy these weapons of mass-destruction for bacteria in our efforts to win some battles in the fight with pathogenic bacteria. The science of phage therapy, as the use phages to cure bacterial infections is called, goes back to 1896 when Ernest Hankin, a British bacteriologist, reported on the presence of marked antibacterial activity (against Vibrio cholerae) which he observed in the waters of the Ganges and Jumna rivers in India, and he suggested that an unidentified substance (which passed through fine porcelain filters and was heat labile) was responsible for this phenomenon and for limiting the spread of cholera epidemics. Several other scientists made similar observations; however, in 1917 the French-Canadian microbiologist Felix D’Herelle working at the Pasteur Institute coined the name bacteriophage and experimented with the possibility of phage therapy – he subsequently worked all over world, including Russia, Tbilisi, Georgia, where his efforts survived to this day in the form of a Phage Therapy Center that treats patients from all over the world. The Canadian film: Killer Cure: The Amazing Adventures of Bacteriophage and the book by Thomas Haeusler entitled, Viruses vs. Superbugs, a solution to the antibiotics crisis? ( see http://www.bacteriophagetherapy.info ) attest to d’Herelle’s work and both references are available at Ottawa libraries. According to a letter signed by a former federal health minister phage therapy can be made available legally to Canadians under the Special Access Program of our Food & Drugs Act. In the USA the Food and Drug Administration has amended the US food additive regulations to provide for the safe use of a bacteriophages on ready-to-eat meat against Listeria monocytogenes (see http://www.fda.gov/OHRMS/DOCKETS/98fr/02f-0316-nfr0001.pdf ) and http://www.cfsan.fda.gov/~dms/opabacqa.html ) . The idea that ready-to-eat meat can be treated if contaminated with Listeria bacteria while a doctor could not get a pharmaceutical grade phage therapy product when faced with a patient suffering listeriosis, strikes this author as absurd, especially considering the recent massive recalls of ready-to-eat meat in Canada due to contamination with listeria. Information is available on phage therapy treatment in Georgia , Europe ( http://www.phagetherapycenter.com ) or Poland (http://www.iitd.pan.wroc.pl/en/Phages/ ) or more recently at the Wound Care Center, Lubbock, Texas ( http://www.woundcarecenter.net/ ) .

    The presentation will focus on current status of phage therapy around the globe. It is noted that Felix d’Herelle was selected as a laureate of the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame in 2007 for his work with bacteriophages (http://www.cdnmedhall.org/dr-f%C3%A9lix-d%E2%80%99h%C3%A9relle) and it is therefore suggested that Canada should establish ‘The Superbug Victim Felix d’Herelle Memorial Center for Experimental Phage Therapy’ to provide phage therapy to patients when antibiotics fail or when patients are allergic to antibiotics or else Canadians will travel to places where the treatment is available, as did Toronto musician Alfred Gertler in 2001.

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