Twenty-five people have been killed by listeria-contaminated cantaloupe, U.S. health officials said on Wednesday, and a dirty food-packing facility may have helped spread it.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says 123 people have been made seriously ill in the outbreak. Far more were likely infected, but listeria doesn’t always cause serious symptoms, and doctors do not always test people for listeria when they are sick.
In September, Food and Drug Administration officials inspected the Jensen Farms facility in Colorado that was the source of the outbreak. On Wednesday, the FDA suggested a possible route by which the bacteria may have spread.
“There could have been low level sporadic Listeria monocytogenes in the field where the cantaloupe were grown, which could have been introduced into the packing facility,” the FDA report reads.
“A truck used to haul culled cantaloupe to a cattle operation was parked adjacent to the packing facility and could have introduced contamination into the facility,” it adds.
The facility was also hard to clean and water could pool, providing a place for bacteria to grow, the FDA said.
“FDA’s findings regarding this particular outbreak highlight the importance for firms to employ good agricultural and management practices in their packing facilities as well as in growing fields,” the report said.
After many snags, Congress passed a food safety bill last December that gives the FDA new powers to monitor the food supply and to force food producers to recall contaminated food products.