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Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

Cantaloupe a year after a deadly Listeria outbreak – now Salmonella, Again

A year after 147 people were sickened, and perhaps 37 died, from Listeria-tainted cantaloupe, comes yesterday’s announcement from the CDC and FDA that a total of 141 persons infected with the outbreak strain of Salmonella Typhimurium have been reported from 20 states.  The number of ill persons identified in each state is as follows: Alabama (7), Arkansas (3), California (2), Georgia (1), Illinois (17), Indiana (13), Iowa (7), Kentucky (50), Michigan (6), Minnesota (3), Missouri (9), Mississippi (2), New Jersey (1), North Carolina (3), Ohio (3), Pennsylvania (2), South Carolina (3), Tennessee (6), Texas (1), and Wisconsin (2).  31 persons have been hospitalized, and two deaths have been reported in Kentucky.

In the course of their investigation, state officials in Kentucky and Indiana found evidence that they believe indicate cantaloupes grown in southwestern Indiana may be a source of the ongoing Salmonella Typhimurium outbreak.  However, the farm and the retail outlets where the cantaloupes were sold have as yet been unnamed.

Not surprisingly I received a few emails from clients that I represent in last year’s cantaloupe debacle.  Here is one:

I can’t believe that as we near the anniversary of my mother’s death from eating Listeria contaminated cantaloupe that we are looking again at illnesses and deaths from cantaloupe.  And, this is coming on the heels of another widespread cantaloupe recall from Listeria that is still ongoing.  Has nothing been learned?  Is anyone listening?  Are more deaths to be accepted as business as usual?   

Congress has its head so deep in the sand of denial that they can’t hear our voices warning them.  So I understand now, more than ever, the need for louder noise on the part of the informed to drag our government leaders out and make them hear what’s at stake.  Americans shouldn’t have to lose a family member to foodborne illness to become aware of or understand the importance of this issue.

The loss of 37 lives last year due to Jensen Farm’s negligence, in the largest foodborne death toll in a hundred years, is the tip of the possible iceberg should a huge farm with wider distribution make similar mistakes and flood our nations markets with deadly produce on an even larger scale. 

Here is another:   

I feel like I have been kicked in the stomach. My heart goes out to the families and the victims of this latest cantaloupe food borne illness. California and Colorado have strengthened their food safety standards especially for cantaloupe. The problem still exists for the ‘bad actors’ in the industry.

My dad, a WWII Purple Heart winner, died from eating Listeria-tainted cantaloupe last year.  Have we learned nothing?  This September the families of the Jensen Farms Listeria outbreak are observing a 1-year anniversary.  This will not be a joyous time.

And, one more:

Last year, as my mom lay dying of listeria from a Jensen Farms cantaloupe, she prayed that it would never happen to anyone else.  She was not normally a litigious person, but joined the lawsuit against Jensen Farms to help effect change. 

You can’t imagine how my heart ached when I read that there is now a salmonella outbreak from cantaloupe!  Then I got the below email from the attorney representing my mom and over 40 others.  My heart still aches, but now it is also filled with anger from what our government isn’t doing to protect us!  

One more came in this morning:

It is as if no one cares. Are they thinking “If something goes wrong that it what we have liability insurance for. Just doing business.”

If one were to take a knife and kill 37 people and injure 147 others that person would be in prison and looking at death. Yet killing people by failing to follow food safety laws is not punished with prison time; even if the results are the same. Mass murder is mass murder.

Then five more:

It is hard to believe that another outbreak involving cantaloupe is happening again. I have heard of several smaller outbreaks and now this one sickening another 141 people. Did the FDA and Congress not learn a lesson? My daughter is the youngest survivor of the listeria outbreak from last fall that sickened 147 people and killed over 35 people. She was born premature at week 29. Her life was changed forever when I ate contaminated cantaloupe. When is it going to end? Why do more people have to endure this terrible experience?


It’s the kind of anniversary that you acknowledge but not one that you celebrate. Last year my dad died after eating cantaloupe grown on Jensen farm in Colorado. He never knew what hit him. We were shocked at his death and later dismayed when we heard of the negligence of Jensen and the lack of government oversight. We will continue to be angered until regulations on food production and safety are written and enforced. It would be the best kind of legacy for my dad and the many others who were killed and made ill. Their deaths and illnesses should help to prevent this kind of tragedy from happening to other families.

While the “Melon Growers Celebrate Rebound” according to the Gazette newspaper, August 19,2012, a new outbreak of disease caused by tainted cantaloupe is occurring in the Midwest. This is devastating news. When I think about the pain and suffering my husband endured for five and a half months, my heart breaks for the new victims. When is this nightmare going to stop?

Words cannot express how sickening it is to hear of another Listeria outbreak related to cantaloupes, nearly one year after my father was and still is affected by last year’s outbreak. What will it take for our government officials to insure the safety of our food? Does one of their own family members need to be affected or die from something that is preventable? Why is the government protecting the source of the Listeria by not naming the Indiana farm involved? So many unanswered questions because government officials did not act proactively after last year’s outbreak. My heart goes out to those people who are affected by the current outbreak.

Its inconceivable that the government would not make the public aware of the outlets that this infected food is distributed, there is no excuse or reasonable explanation for such a policy. Almost to the day we are approaching the year anniversary of our father’s passing from the Jensen Farms listeria outbreak, to think that more families are now about to go through what we went through with dad simply breaks my heart.

With your good work on behalf of the victims and their families, hopefully the seemingly increasing incidences of these outbreaks will be stopped. The government’s motivation may be to protect the businesses, but they would be better served concerning themselves with the future viability of the entire industry and not the individual growers and distributors in this particular outbreak. Continued outbreaks are going to kill this industry, and the only way to save the industry is to put the light squarely on the industry, bring it into the light with a total reexamination of how things are done in its entirety. More light, not less will save the industry and those that consume the product.

Keep up your good work, Bill, these families will need your expertise to help them through their horrible days.

And, it is not like government and the industry – growers, shippers and retailers – have not had ample warning:

No.

Year

State(s)

Confirmed Illnesses

Pathogen

Description

1.

1985

Wisconsin

16

Campylobacter

Melon or cantaloupe

2.

1990

30 states

245

Salmonella

Cut cantaloupe at salad bars

3.

1991

International, including U.S.

400

Salmonella

Likely Mexican cantaloupe

4.

1997

California

24

Salmonella

Mexican cantaloupe.

5.

1998

Ontario, Canada

22

Salmonella

Cantaloupe

6.

1999

Iowa

61

Norovirus

Restaurant, cantaloupe or melon

7.

2000

California, Oregon, Colorado, Washington, New Mexico, Nevada

47

Salmonella

Mexican cantaloupe

8.

2001

Multi-state and International

50

Salmonella

Viva Brand cantaloupe

9.

2002

California, Minnesota, Oregon, Arkansas, Vermont, Nevada, Texas

58

Salmonella

Susie Brand cantaloupe

10.

2003

New York, Ohio, New Mexico, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Missouri

58

Salmonella

Day care center and private homes, cantaloupe/honeydew melon

11.

2006

Multi-State and International

41

Salmonella

Cantaloupe cut at processing facility in Canada

12.

2007

California

11

Salmonella

Private home

13.

2008

Multi-State

53

Salmonella

Agropecuraria Mobtelibano cantaloupe, from Honduras

14.

2008

California

23

Norovirus

Restaurant, melon and cantaloupe

15.

2011

Multi-State

20

Salmonella

Del Monte cantaloupe

16.

2011

Multi-State

147

Listeria

Jensen Farms cantaloupe

17.

2012

Multi-State

141

Salmonella

Indiana Farm cantaloupe