On March 1, Joan Murphy of the Produce News wrote that produce trade organizations will be meeting to draft additional guidance to ensure the safe production of netted melons (i.e. cantaloupe). The move is in response to the 2011 Listeria monocytogenes outbreak that was traced to cantaloupes produced by Colorado-based Jensen Farms, sickened 146 and killed more than 30.
According to Murphy’s report, the meetings are open to growers, buyers, and auditors in the produce industry, as well as regulators from state agencies, the Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. However, the meetings will not be open to the public – a decision that has left many Listeria victims and their families feeling ignored.
“If the full weight of our losses is not recognized by those in industry, how can they make fully informed decisions regarding the importance of improved practices?” asks Kathleen Gilbert Buchanan, whose mother, Frances Gilbert, died in September from a Listeria infection. “Treating all of the illnesses and deaths as mere statistics will not have the same impact as hearing the voices of our families and seeing the faces of our loved ones.”
Jennifer Exley, the daughter of a Colorado man who was hospitalized for over a month and still requires in-home health care believes that the cantaloupe industry needs to hear the victims’ side of the outbreak in order to fully understand the real-life impact of foodborne illness.
“They need to know our stories,” said Exley. “People that have been affected should be allowed to speak about what we all have been through and are continuing to go through so the seriousness of foodborne illnesses can be relayed in a personal manner.”
In October, the Associated Press published a story about the death of George Drinkwalter. Despite the Drinkwalter family’s initial hope that awareness of their loss might lead to cantaloupe safety improvements, the family now says the decision of the cantaloupe industry has dampened any expectation of real change.
“We feel tremendously let down and ignored. This is very disappointing for those of us who lost a family member in this outbreak, said Drinkwalter family spokesman Keith Drinkwalter. “After the deaths of over 35 people, I would think that the industry would want to be open and upfront with upcoming discussions.”