US: Listeria outbreak traced to cantaloupe packing shed

The nationwide US listeria outbreak that has killed 25 people who ate tainted cantaloupe was probably caused by unsanitary conditions in the packing shed of the Colorado farm where the melons were grown, federal officials have said.

Government investigators said that workers had tramped through pools of water where listeria was likely to grow, tracking the deadly bacteria around the shed, which was operated by Jensen Farms, in Granada, Colo. The pathogen was found on a conveyor belt for carrying cantaloupes, a melon drying area and a floor drain, among other places.

“You’re rolling around cantaloupe on uncleanable equipment and you’re getting it wet and you’re not cooling it — it provides the perfect environment for listeria growth and spread,” said James Gorny, a senior food safety adviser at the Food and Drug Administration.

The outbreak, which began in late July, is the deadliest caused by foodborne disease since 1985. A total of 123 people in 26 states have fallen ill, including those who died, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The farm had passed a food safety audit by an outside contractor just days before the outbreak began. Eric Jensen, a member of the family that runs the farm, said in an e-mail that the auditor had given the packing plant a score of 96 points out of 100.

FDA officials did not criticise the auditor directly. But Michael R Taylor, deputy commissioner for foods, said the agency intended to establish standards for how auditors should be trained and how audits should be conducted…..

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