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Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

So much for Local Produce – Colorado Cantaloupes Sicken Citizens with Listeria

Screen Shot 2011-09-12 at 5.06.23 PM.pngToday, Dr. Chris Urbina, chief medical officer and executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, said, “People at high risk for Listeria infection should not eat cantaloupe from the Rocky Ford growing region. The department expects additional test results later this week that may help identify the specific source of the cantaloupe linked to the multistate outbreak.” 

Eleven of Colorado’s 13 listeriosis cases now are linked to the multistate outbreak.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is coordinating the multistate investigation with affected states, the Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety Inspection Service. Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment also is working with local public health partners on the investigation.

  • Dan Cohen, Maccabee Seed Co. Davis CA

    FSN September 13:

    “Based on preliminary findings, the likely source of the outbreak is Rocky Ford cantaloupes harvested in August and September, the CDC said. These cantaloupes were “distributed widely in the United States, and are currently available in grocery stores,” the public health agency added.”

    This makes the headline “so much for local” disingenuous or premature. The Rocky Ford area is a growing region with a national market based on a perceived quality advantage (including higher degrees brix of sugar) backed by a long historical record, not unlike Vidalia onions, from Georgia for sweet onions. I wonder if, like vidalia onions, there also is an issue with claim-jumping that dilutes the label so that cantaloupes from outside the region are also marketed to consumers as “Rocky Ford”.

    The CDC has not indicated whether cantaloupes were consumed as whole melons or pre-cut (“fresh-cut”) food service, or whether there is a common handler involved. There still is a reluctance to follow the considerable complexity of the produce chain from the farm to the fork, even after the initial goal “stop the outbreak” is achieved.

    Oregon strawberries were “local” in the sense of non-national, non-interstate, single farm identified. However, the distribution system — where the grower and the consumer are face to face — doesn’t meet the criteria used to defend local face-to-face sales, since the farm sold to vendors who sold to the public. Not that this matters to the ill or the dead.

    It remains to be seen whether the cantaloupe outbreak had, in fact, a local component.