Listeria Outbreak Death Rate Exceeds 20%

  • Dead: 26 (including one stillbirth)
  • Infected: 123
  • Death rate: 20.3% (21% including the stillbirth)

With more than half of the nation’s states confirming at least one outbreak case of cantaloupe-related listeriosis and a greater than 20% death rate, the public is still in the dark as to which grocery stores sold Jensen Farms cantaloupes, and which restaurants served these contaminated melons.

A few supermarket chains have advised their customers that they carried the recalled cantaloupes. Others have assured their customers that they only carried melons from states other than Colorado (Jensen’s home). Walmart – named by at least two state health departments and by a number of outbreak victims as a vendor of the melons – has been silent. Whole Foods – named by New Mexico as a vendor – also has remained silent.

Outbreaks of listeriosis are slow to emerge, slow to be discovered, and very slow to wind down. The incubation period for this illness can be as long as 70 days – more than two months. This outbreak is no exception. The first confirmed cases developed in late July; the most recent reported onset was at the beginning of October. Additional illnesses are still under investigation in several states.

Listeriosis Onset Chart (from CDC's October 18, 2011 update)

Even though the recalled cantaloupes are no longer in household refrigerators, the Listeria monocytogenes that they carried may still be lingering. Juice from a cut cantaloupe may have dripped onto a refrigerator shelf and contaminated the refrigerator with Listeria monocytogenes – a microbe that easily grows in the cold.

The Listeria could then cross-contaminate other ready-to-eat items in the refrigerator – perhaps some other fruit, or possibly salad vegetables. Unless a consumer who stored recalled cantaloupe in her refrigerator is careful to clean and decontaminate all surfaces and bins, she and her family will remain at risk.

CDC continues to offer the following suggestions to anyone who may have purchased the recalled cantaloupes:

  • Dispose of cantaloupes in a closed plastic bag placed in a sealed trash can. This will prevent people and animals from eating them.
  • Wash the inside walls and shelves of the refrigerator, cutting boards and countertops; then sanitize them with a solution of one tablespoon of chlorine bleach to one gallon of hot water;
  • Dry with a clean cloth or paper towel that has not been previously used.
  • Wipe up spills in the refrigerator immediately and clean the refrigerator regularly.
  • Always wash hands with warm water and soap following the cleaning and sanitation process.

For information on which stores may have carried the Jensen Farms cantaloupes, please visit Jensen Farms Cantaloupes – Retail Distribution Information.

Contaminated Cantaloupes Gone – Consequences Linger On

It has been more than one month since Jensen Farms recalled its cantaloupes from the marketplace. By now, any melon that was not eaten, discarded or returned to the store should be “spoiled” beyond edibility. But this doesn’t mean that the public – and public health officials – can let down their guard.

CDC routinely updates the illness and death toll racked up by Listeria monocytogenes116 ill, 23 dead, one stillborn, as of October 12th. After a while, however, the numbers lose their ability to shock. It’s the individual tragedies that catch our attention.

Missy had this to say last week:

My granddaughter was stillborn this past Sunday (Oct 9th) in Ohio. Cultures showed mass amounts of Listeria in the placenta. Walmart is saying their cantaloupes did not come from this farm. Any chance that isn’t true? Trying to figure out what happened!

As of last Friday (October 14th), the mother of this stillborn baby girl was still in hospital on IV antibiotics.

The suffering that goes hand in glove with an outbreak of listeriosis has not let up – and it will continue for some time to come. Missy is not the only one who is trying to figure out what happened.

While consumers ask repeatedly in which stores the recalled cantaloupes were sold, the FDA, Jensen Farms, Walmart and Whole Foods Market remain silent.

While pregnant women wonder whether they were served Jensen Farms cantaloupe at their favorite restaurant or salad bar, the FDA and Jensen Farms remain silent.

While cantaloupe growers in Arizona and California watch the demand for their melons shrivel, the FDA continues its “root cause” investigation into Jensen Farms’ practices – and hasn’t released any new information since September 30th.

I have said this again and again. Consumers should not have to play detective in order to find out whether or not they have been exposed to the risk of infection from a recalled food. They should not have to rely on blogs like eFoodAlert for information on where a recalled food was sold.

Let me spell this out one more time.

  • USDA publishes retail distribution lists for all Class I (highest risk category) recalls within seven days of the recall.
  • California – a state that is struggling with huge budget deficits – publishes retail distribution lists, including for restaurants.
  • FDA, when asked directly where the recalled Jensen Farms cantaloupes were sold, replied that consumers should “ask their retailer.”

When is FDA going to wake up, put the health and safety of American consumers ahead of industry interests, and provide us all with timely and complete information?

Listeria – Two More Illnesses; Two More Deaths

Louisiana’s Department of Health and Hospitals confirmed today that two elderly women who died of listeriosis were infected with the same strain found in Jensen Farms’ cantaloupe.

The Louisiana cases raise the death toll to 24 (including one miscarriage), and the total number of confirmed illnesses to 112. Twenty-five states now have reported at least one confirmed case of listeriosis in this outbreak.

With FDA refusing to share the results of its distribution tracing information, consumers across the US remain in the dark regarding the retail distribution of the cantaloupes that Jensen Farms recalled on September 14th. Information on retailers who sold – or did not sell – the implicated cantaloupes can be found at Jensen Farms Cantaloupes – Retail Distribution Information.

Updated information on the size and spread of the Listeria monocytogenes outbreak is available at State Of The States – Listeria monocytogenes.