Deadly Outbreak is a Reminder That Produce Standards are Urgently Needed

Statement of CSPI Food Safety Director Caroline Smith DeWaal


The tragic deaths from Listeria monocytogenes that are linked to tainted Colorado-grown cantaloupes is an urgent reminder that consumers are waiting for the Food and Drug Administration to release guidelines and regulations to help keep pathogens out of produce. Since 1990, melons have caused at least 36 outbreaks, although this one is the first attributed to Listeria. This pathogen is super-virulent for older or immune-compromised consumers, with a hospitalization rate of over 90 percent. It has a high mortality rate of 16 percent and can also cause miscarriages when pregnant women are exposed.

The cantaloupes have been recalled, but they may have left behind the deadly pathogen in consumers' homes and refrigerators, where it may live on for months. CSPI is urging all consumers who know or suspect that they had a recalled cantaloupe in their homes to dispose of the cantaloupes in plastic bags and take additional precautions. These precautions include washing and sanitizing all surfaces touched by the cantaloupe to eliminate Listeria, such as counters, vegetable bins and shelves, sponges, and dishcloths. In addition, all food that might have touched the cantaloupe or a potentially contaminated surface should be discarded.

FDA should also move rapidly to release its guidelines and regulations for the production of safe produce, currently due for release in January 2012 and January 2013, respectively. Congress should fully fund FDA to implement the Food Safety Modernization Act, to ensure that outbreaks like this stop breaking records.

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