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Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

Cantaloupe Listeria Death Toll Hits 29 – Now Nation’s Deadliest

Screen Shot 2011-11-02 at 3.12.17 PM.pngAs of November 1, 2011, a total of 139 persons infected with any of the four outbreak-associated strains of Listeria monocytogenes have been reported to CDC from 28 states.  The number of infected persons identified in each state is as follows: Alabama (1), Arkansas (1), California (2), Colorado (39), Idaho (2), Illinois (3), Indiana (3), Iowa (1), Kansas (10), Louisiana (2), Maryland (1), Missouri (6), Montana (1), Nebraska (6), Nevada (1), New Mexico (15), New York (2), North Dakota (2), Oklahoma (11), Oregon (1), Pennsylvania (1), South Dakota (1), Texas (18), Utah (1), Virginia (1), West Virginia (1), Wisconsin (2), and Wyoming (4).

Twenty-nine deaths have been reported: Colorado (8), Indiana (1), Kansas (3), Louisiana (2), Maryland (1), Missouri (2), Nebraska (1), New Mexico (5), New York (2), Oklahoma (1), Texas (2), and Wyoming (1). Among persons who died, ages range from 48 to 96 years, with a median age of 81 years. In addition, one woman pregnant at the time of illness had a miscarriage.

At 139 sickened – with 29 deaths – the Jensen Farms Frontera Listeria Outbreak has now moved into first place in the United States’ most deadly foodborne illness outbreaks.  The numbers of ill and dead are expected to increase in this recent Listeria Outbreak that has impacted 28 states.  Here are the top 2, not largest, but deadliest outbreaks in the U.S.:

1.  Jensen Farms Frontera Listeria Outbreak

•          September 2011 – ONGOING

•          Vehicle: whole cantaloupe

•          Number ill: 139

•          Deaths: 29 (30, counting miscarriages)

2.  Jalisco’s Listeria Outbreak

•          January 1985

•          Vehicle: cheese

•          Number ill: 142

•          Deaths: 28 (48, counting miscarriages)

As I said to MSNBC:

The outbreak toll may be slowing, noted Bill Marler, a Seattle food poisoning lawyer who represents several clients sickened by the fruit. But it’s still not over.

“I think the hopeful sign is that it’s tapering off,” he said. “But people are still in the hospital, some in critical condition. Will that number go up? Unfortunately, I think it will.”

And, as I just said to Fox TV in Houston:

Attorneys at Marler Clark, a law firm that represents victims of food-borne illnesses, have filed their eighth suit in the outbreak, Western Farm Press reported Wednesday. The latest lawsuit, which lists the defendants as Jensen Farms and Texas-based distributor Frontera Produce, was submitted on behalf of the family of an 89-year-old Dallas woman who died 10 days after she was admitted to the hospital with a listeria infection.

“In this day and age, people should not be hospitalized or die because of something they ate,” managing partner William Marler told the trade magazine. “Food producers and distributors have a responsibility to consumers to sell food that is unadulterated and free of food-borne pathogens such as listeria — no exceptions.”

And from Reuters:

Listeria outbreaks are most commonly linked to contaminated cheese or packaged meats. The current outbreak is the first to be associated with cantaloupe.

“What this shows is that these bugs are very opportunistic,” food safety attorney and advocate Bill Marler said.

“As long as you have a cool, wet environment and a product that is ready-to-eat, you’re always going to have a risk of listeria contamination, which is why the sanitation of the plant is so critical,” said Marler, who is representing several families affected by the outbreak.

Trial Magazine:

William Marler of Seattle, who represents the Palmers and several other families affected by the outbreak, said the number of deaths and illnesses CDC has reported is only the “tip of the iceberg.” The CDC said it expected reports of new illnesses to mount even though the Rocky-Ford brand cantaloupe was recalled from stores back in September. It can take up to two months after eating food contaminated with listeria for someone to become ill, the CDC said.

Marler expressed concern that, because of this lag, people may die and women may have miscarriages that are related to listeria without knowing that they should test for listeriosis. “There are a lot of people who have potentially died from listeriosis and no autopsy was performed,” he said. “The same thing goes for miscarriages. There are going to be a number of miscarriages out there where the parents or the hospitals don’t conduct any testing on the fetuses to determine if listeria was to blame.”

An FDA investigation concluded that the Jensen Farms cantaloupe likely were contaminated with listeria in a packing facility, where they were washed, packaged, and stored before distribution. Listeria thrives in cool and damp conditions, which is how FDA investigators described the packing facility’s environment. Investigators also found that neither the facility floor nor the packing equipment was easily cleanable and cantaloupe still warm from the field weren’t precooled before being refrigerated, allowing condensation to form on the skin, which promoted the bacteria’s growth.

“It’s a devastating outbreak, and the fallout to the industry is profound,” said Marler, “but there were things the company could have done that would have helped prevent this outbreak from being as devastating as it is.”

ABC Evening News:

“I have two clients who are in the ICU, both in their 80s, both in Colorado,” said Bill Marler, a Seattle food safety attorney whose law firm is representing the families of 26 victims of the current outbreak (10 who died and 16 who survived).

  • http://www.amerilabtech.com Joe Montgomery

    Here is what I find interesting here… Maybe people have already addressed this, but look at the huge numbers of miscarriages there are. Around 1/4 of all reported ill (including the miscarriages) ended in a miscarriage. Now obviously at any given time, significantly fewer than 25% of women are pregnant. What this tells me is that there are tons of cases going unreported. On a massive scale. It’s just interesting you don’t hear about that

  • Sam

    Good point Joe. There must be some way to extrapolate from the data what the actual numbers of sick and dead may be. In the past I have been told that as low as 10% of food related illness are actually reported or counted.

  • aussiefoodie

    A national mandatory clinical swab of placentas following stillbirths, the centralisation of the data analysis for binary and serotyping for the purpose of molecular epidemiology would provide insight on the real devastation of this horrific bug (and enable powerful causal trace investigations).