California farmers call Colorado cantaloupe sickness 'isolated'
Federal regulators' pinpointing of a deadly listeria food poisoning to a single packing shed in Colorado provides evidence that the outbreak was an isolated case of poor sanitation practices, according to California's biggest trade group for fresh fruits, nuts and vegetables.
On Wednesday, the Food and Drug Administration linked the bad cantaloupes to Jensen Farms in Holly, Colo. Water had been allowed to accumulate, providing an ideal environment for the bacteria to grow and spread, the FDA said.
"The recent, tragic outbreak of listeria associated exclusively with a single cataloupe packing facility in Colorado should not have happened," said Tom Nassif, chief executive of the Western Growers Assn. in Irvine. "We are confident that California and Arizona cantaloupe producers have the controls and preventive pactices in place to ensure the safety of over 45 million cases of canaloupes, 85% of the total U.S. volume, grown in this region."
Nassif said that Western Grower farmers in the two states follow stringent food-safety rules in all phases of production, harvest and packing.
The FDA investigation revealed that the Colorado packing shed was difficult to clean. Workers there did not "pre-cool" the fruit to remove field heat before it went to cold storage. Bacteria could have grown in the condensation that formed on the melons.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the contaminated cantaloupes made 123 people sick in 26 states, killed 25 people and caused a miscarriage in one pregnant woman.
-- Marc Lifsher and Eryn Brown
Photo: Late season-cantaloupes being harvested near Firebaugh, Calif. Credit: Gosia Wuzniaka / Associated Press