Twenty-one people are dead, one woman has lost her baby, and 109 illnesses are confirmed by CDC to be the result of Listeria monocytogenes – contracted by eating contaminated cantaloupes. Illnesses relating to this outbreak now have been confirmed in 23 states.
And now, this outbreak has claimed the life of an unborn child in Iowa.
What was the source of the contamination – the “root cause” that FDA is investigating? One month after Jensen recalled its cantaloupes, the agency still doesn’t know – or isn’t saying.
Which supermarkets, grocery stores, and restaurants were supplied with the recalled cantaloupes? One month after the recall, all FDA can say is “ask your grocer.”
That’s not good enough!
Consumers should not have to play detective in order to find out whether or not they have been exposed to the risk of infection from a recalled food. They should not have to rely on blogs like eFoodAlert for information on where a recalled food was sold.
In the interests of consumer safety, FDA MUST release the results of its trace-back investigations to the public. When public health is concerned, commercial confidentiality be damned! USDA manages to release a retail distribution list within a week of every Class I (highest risk) food safety recall, and updates the information as more retailers are identified. Why can’t FDA do the same?
Listeria monocytogenes has a relatively long incubation period, and most – or all – of the illnesses reported so far likely were contracted before Jensen Farms’ September 14th recall. But that is on the verge of changing. We are rapidly approaching the cross-over point where infections could have been prevented if consumers were given prompt information on where the recalled cantaloupes were sold. From now on, newly developing illnesses should rest very heavily on the collective conscience of policy-makers in FDA – the “powers-that-be” who tell consumers to ask their grocers.
It’s all very well for FDA to complain that the agency is underfunded. It’s all very well for the Commissioner to complain that funding has not been appropriated for the Food Safety Modernization Act. But underfunding does not excuse FDA’s refusal to release information that could prevent more consumers from developing a potentially deadly illness.
When this outbreak was first reported, it was limited to 15 people in four states.
Now, it has spread to 109 people in 23 states, and has claimed 22 innocent lives.
Listeria monocytogenes has an incubation period that can be as long as 70 days.
How many more people are nervously noting every little symptom and twinge, wondering whether the cantaloupe they purchased from a local grocer or enjoyed at their favorite restaurant was contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes?
How many more people have to suffer before FDA recognizes its responsibility to the citizens of this country?
And how many more will die?