Listeria Monocytogenes or simply "Listeria" is a gram positive bacteria found it water and soil and is carried by some animals. It can be found in fruits and vegetables, soft cheeses and deli meats ( hot dogs etc.) It can cause diarrhea, vomiting, meningitis and even death. There is an even longer list but it gets really depressing. It mainly affects young children, pregnant women, the elderly and those with compromised immune functions.
Please note I am not a scientist, I am a food safety inspector, so this post will be mainly in simple terms.
O.k. so why a post about the outbreak in Jensen's Farms Cantaloupe? I was at a news website that I love to read with my morning coffee and found a bunch of what a blogger named Orac calls "flaming stupid" or "burning stupid." People were blaming the FDA, the CDC and anyone they could think of that was not themselves.
Here are a few things I do know.
1) Listeria is in water and soil. What are fruits and vegetables grown in???? Soil and they are watered with you guessed it "water".
2) It can take upwards of 2 months for listeria to show up in a person.
3) Once someone is symptomatic it can be confused with other illnesses like a particularly virulent strain of staph.
4) This makes the process of identifying the source even tougher as you are so far removed from the consumption of the affected product.
5) Listeria loves cool damp places like, say, your refrigerator.
Why were the melons a prime candidate? Soil and water. See #1 Cantaloupe have a porous surface with ridges making it hard to wash. Water can enter into the melon through the stem in of the melon after it has been picked. If the melon is cut whatever bacteria on the exterior of the melon, the skin, is introduced into the interior of the melon. Peeling does not remove the Listeria contamination. It potentially introduces more of the Listeria into the fruit. If you have melons that you don't know where they are from do not attempt to wash them or peel them. Throw them out!!! Most Jensen melons are out of circulation by now but if in doubt...throw it out!
The worst case of "burning stupid" I have seen throughout this recall was a local news team showing people how to wash a listeria contaminated melon. Listeria can be waterborne. It does no real good and could give people a false sense of security. Throw it out!!! Washing melon however is normally a great practice under normal circumstances. It will remove soil and other potential contaminants like salmonella or e-coli. An affected melon with Listeria- a Jensen's Farm Melon- not a good idea at any time. Throw it out!!! More on washing veggies later.
Now for everyone screaming about it taking so long to identify work backwards. It is now October, it was identified and a recall in place the middle of last month ( roughly). Prior to that the cases had to be identified in each person through countless doctors, hospitals tests and labs. Those cases had to then be submitted to the CDC. So now we are into early September. Subtract 60 days and we are looking at early July. That is pretty close for some rough math.
How do you know your melon does not have listeria? You don't.
Seriously, there are no guarantees on any fruits and vegetables. However, I can say that the FDA and your local inspectors will be sampling melons and sending them for testing now that they have been identified as a food with the potential to be contaminated. Also I am positive there has been an FDA team at Jensen's Farm since it was identified as a source of the outbreak. They will go into the fields and any packinghouses the product went through to try to determine the source of the contamination. Let me caution you, it may have simply been the dirt. Or it could be living in a cool damp place the melon are stored or pass through. Even carried by an employee, not very likely but still an option.
Every day in every state throughout the nation there are food inspectors of some kind pulling samples of foods that have been determined to be leading causes of food illness. Ground beef for e-coli, fresh juice for salmonella or molds, soft white and blue veined cheeses for listeria, tomatoes and cilantro for salmonella and e-coli....imports for contaminants.....the list is seemingly never ending. These items are then tested and these tests have led to countless recalls that most Americans never hear about because the product is pulled before anyone gets sick. So for the people spouting "flaming stupid" blaming the FDA and the government get a grip. They save your hiney more than you will ever know!
For the people posting the "burning stupid" about it being caused by, "big factory farms" get a grip. It is found in soil and water. Organic does not guarantee safety! It is a guarantee of a lack of harmful chemicals. I am not saying I am for big farms I am saying Organic produce has similar risks.
You can protect yourself and your family by washing your produce. Wash all produce! Even organic. Use the sprayer on your sink and your hands or even a vegetable brush. Wet the vegetables and scrub with your fingers or the brush to remove both visible and invisible contaminates. Soap or veggie sprays are not necessary.
Remember to wash your hands prior to washing the vegetables and keep all of the items you will be using to prepare your vegetables clean and sanitary as well. Counter tops, knives, cutting boards etc.- keep it all clean! It may not fully eliminate all pathogens but it will definitely help keep you from getting a heavy dose and becoming ill.
Simply, try to be smart about how you handle all of the foods that will be going into your body and the bodies of those you love. Oh and ignore the "burning stupid" people are spouting.
I love food!
Hi, I am Jo and this is my blog about my life. Here you will find entries on cooking, gardening, food safety and the interesting things happening in my search for a frugal way of living. My home is located in South Florida and I live with my husband in a family neighborhood. This is the sub tropics so my garden and season may be a bit different than yours. I look forward to seeing what you have to say as time passes. Read on and have a beautiful day!