Deadly Cantaloupes Have Colorado Scientists Seeking Answers After 13 Die

Publication: Bloomberg

Author: Jennifer Oldham and Alan Bjerga


09/29/2011 - Colorado scientists are working to pinpoint how melons linked to the deadliest U.S. outbreak of food-borne illness since 1998 became contaminated.

“Bacteria on the outside can be internalized, or get inside the cantaloupe if they’re not washed properly,” Lawrence Goodridge, an associate professor of food microbiology at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, said in an interview yesterday. “It can be very complicated to figure out, and in many cases the actual reason for the contamination is not found.”

Goodridge is studying samples from the melon-processing line at Jensen Farms in Granada, Colorado -- where federal officials traced the outbreak -- including washing pans, conveyor belts and floor drains.

At least 13 people have died from listeria infections linked to cantaloupes, with 72 people in 18 states ill with listeriosis traced to the tainted fruit, the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Sept. 27 in a statement. More illnesses are expected because people can become sick as long as two months after eating the contaminated produce, Thomas Frieden, director of the CDC, said yesterday.

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“It’s urgent that we move to a system that prevents people from getting sick rather than chasing down problems after we have deaths and illnesses,” Erik Olson, the director of food programs for the Pew Health Group in Washington, said yesterday in an interview.

Food poisoning strikes an estimated 48 million people in the U.S. each year, leading to 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths, according to the CDC. Food-borne illnesses cost the nation’s economy about $152 billion annually in health-care expenses and lost productivity, according to a 2010 report by Georgetown University’s Produce Safety Project in Washington.

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Read the full article, Deadly Cantaloupes Have Colorado Scientists Seeking Answers After 13 Die, on Bloomberg's Web site.

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