The multistate outbreak of listeriosis linked to cantaloupes now includes another death — this one in Wyoming — and a miscarriage in Iowa, along with another melon recall by a western New York distributor supplied by Colorado’s Jensen Farms.
At the start of the week, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had confirmed 100 cases of listeriosis, including 18 fatalities, in 20 states to be part of the outbreak. But the death of an elderly Sheridan County, WY woman during the previous week was not reported until after CDC’s most recent update.
Wyoming health officials, citing federal privacy laws, have declined to further identify the woman. Her death means at least 19 people have died in the outbreak that became public knowledge only 25 days ago.
The Iowa Department of Public Health announced that an unnamed woman from the northwest part of the state had experienced a miscarriage due to Listeria infection. The case was the first reported in Iowa, so the outbreak may now involve at least 21 states. Iowa was not on the Jensen Farms’ distribution list.
State officials said the miscarriage came early in the woman’s pregnancy. Two other pregnant women have been confirmed to be infected with the outbreak strain of Listeria and their cases are being monitored, according to the CDC.
Meanwhile on Thursday, Fruit Fresh Up Inc., based in Depew, NY, announced that 4,800 packages of fresh cut cantaloupe and cut mixed fruit containing cantaloupe it sold between Aug. 31 and Sept. 11 had been supplied by Jensen Farms.
The New York distributor said the packages were sold in the Buffalo area through both retail stores, including Wegmans, and caterers. The products were Cantaloupe Chunks, Cantaloupe Slices, Gourmet Fruit Salad, Small Fruit Salad, Small and Large Fruit Salad with Pineapple, Fruit Salad with Kiwi and Fruit Trays, all with best-if-used-by dates from Sept. 4 through Sept. 11.
In recalling the products, which likely are no longer in consumers’ homes, Fresh Fruit Up said it had not been advised of the melons’ possible contamination until Sept. 27. No illnesses have been reported.
The company said that before it cuts whole cantaloupes they are washed with a sanitizing solution. After the seeds are removed, the flesh is washed with the same solution before the melons are further processed and packaged.
Jensen Farms issued the larger recall on Sept. 14 for all the cantaloupes it shipped from July 27 to Sept. 10.
The cantaloupes said to be responsible for the outbreak are a local brand, marketed under the Rocky Ford label. They’ve been grown in Colorado’s Arkansas River Valley since the 1880s, and developed national following for their sweet taste. Jensen Farms raises about 40 percent of all Rocky Ford-brand cantaloupes.
The farm value of Colorado-grown cantaloupes has ranged from $8 million to $13 million a year. Colorado is the fourth largest among cantaloupe-growing states, behind California, Arizona and Georgia.
The outbreak is under investigation by CDC, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and state health departments, which have not yet revealed what they’ve learned about how the cantaloupes became contaminated. The outbreak may also be subject to an investigation and public hearing by the congressional Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigation.
The subcommittee is the investigative arm of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee. Rep. Diana DeGette, D-CO, is the ranking member of the subcommittee.
She told the Pueblo Chieftain, a newspaper that circulates in the Arkansas Valley, that hearings on the outbreak won’t happen in the next month “but possibility not long after that.”
DeGette issued a statement Wednesday designed to reassure cantaloupe growers about the hearings, “When I saw people on the national news telling Americans not to buy cantaloupes at all, I knew the situation had reached a point of alarm that was hurting farmers in Colorado and across the country,” she said.
“I immediately recognized that it was time to call for a hearing in my committee, so we could get answers to the health questions that families are concerned about and also end the fear causing great economic costs for cantaloupe growers unfairly tainted in the recall,” she added.
DeGette and Rep. Henry Waxman, D-CA, jointly called for the congressional investigation and public hearings. They must persuade their Republican counterparts to go along as the GOP controls the House committee and subcommittee structure.
Congress has investigated past major foodborne outbreaks, and the bipartisan involvement of member in those past probes was credited with helping the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act easily win approval in the last Congress.