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Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

The Deadly 2011 Cantaloupe Listeria Outbreak – My View Part 6 – Conclusion

Hopefully, Parts 1 through 5 showed that there was plenty of blame to go around to farmers, shippers, brokers, auditors, retailers and the government, and that with just some simple precautions and focus, this outbreak would never have occurred.

On December 8, 2011, the CDC determined that deadliest foodborne illness outbreak was officially over and issued its final report. As of that date a total of 146 persons infected with any of the four (actually five) outbreak-associated strains of Listeria monocytogenes were reported to CDC from 28 states. The number of infected persons identified in each state was as follows: Alabama (1), Arkansas (1), California (4), Colorado (40), Idaho (2), Illinois (4), Indiana (3), Iowa (1), Kansas (11), Louisiana (2), Maryland (1), Missouri (7), Montana (1), Nebraska (6), Nevada (1), New Mexico (15), New York (2), North Dakota (2), Oklahoma (12), Oregon (1), Pennsylvania (1), South Dakota (1), Texas (18), Utah (1), Virginia (1), West Virginia (1), Wisconsin (2), and Wyoming (4). Thirty deaths were reported: Colorado (8), Indiana (1), Kansas (3), Louisiana (2), Maryland (1), Missouri (3), Nebraska (1), New Mexico (5), New York (2), Oklahoma (1), Texas (2), and Wyoming (1). In addition, one woman pregnant at the time of illness had a miscarriage.

Since then two of my Listeria clients, Paul Schwarz (MO) and Sharon Jones (CO) have died. In addition, I learned recently Listeria victim, Dale Braddock (NE), also died. In addition dozens of others (my clients and not) are still suffering the impacts of eating Listeria-tainted cantaloupe. Most lives are forever changed for those who survived and the families of the 34 deaths (counting the miscarriage). Several of my clients’ acute phase medical expenses are over $5,000,000 total. Some will have similar expenses in the future. Despite the CDC’s determination of finality, it is far from over.

So, what has industry – farmers, shippers, brokers, auditors and retailers and the government done since the beginning of the outbreak or the announced end? The answer is nothing much, if at all. Did any visit a family, attend a funeral, invite them to a Congressional hearing, to visit the FDA, CDC or the White House? Of course not – those people, alive or dead, and their families, are just uncomfortable statistics.

Food safety will only become important when consumers are not statistics.

Here are all Six Parts of The Deadly 2011 Cantaloupe Listeria Outbreak – My View – Download PDF.

  • Paul F Schwarz

    Bill, You have laid out the true facts of this horrible outbreak. Yes, the powers that be think this is over, but we know better. Those of us that lost loved ones to listeria will wonder why and how could this happen. The survivors and their families that this tragedy has affected will be ongoing also ask why and how could this happen. Our loved ones deserve these answers, especially from congress. Congress is supposed to be the people’s house, but not in this case. You are right that this affected real people and not statistics.

  • Gabrielle Meunier

    Could it be that this agricultural product is not seen as “big business”, i.e. Taco Bell or chain restaurant? Because “farmers” grown cantaloupes, perhaps there is not as much “blame” or outcry? All the more reason why FSMA should not be omitting certain segments of producers (i.e. small producers). All food safety should be treated and same and with the same seriousness. This cantaloupe example is a tragedy.

  • Patrick Lorkin

    I work in food regulation and food safety in Australia in a “front line” capacity but have spoken at conferences at a national level to highlight some problems with current Government data gathering, analysis and sharing. Often leading to delayed public health responses .
    I was only made aware of this out break with 34 deaths through blogs such as your own.
    It is appaling how slow data is gathered and shared with the Environmental Health Officers who act to protect the public. The raising of these issues seems to fall on deaf ears in the buracracy and so the same mistakes (and outbreaks ) occur again and again. Without a ground swell of public opinion and anger I am afraid that these deaths and illness will continue to occur.
    5.4 million food poisonings occur annually in Australia (Gillian Hall 2004) but less than 1% are notified for investigation. Of all investigations less than 10% are actually investigated within 7 days of onset. I estimate less than 0.001% lead to the actaul source of the illness.
    So I wish to stress the importance of the work done by Blogs such as this one.