Listeria outbreak continues: what to watch for now and what you can do to stay safe

Many foods such as an apple need to be thoroughly washed before consuming. Dirty produce is just one way listeria can be transmitted.
Many foods such as an apple need to be thoroughly washed before consuming. Dirty produce is just one way listeria can be transmitted.

by Michael Pines, Accident & Injury Prevention Expert

In the largest food-borne disease of its kind, the cantaloupe recall has killed 25 people nationwide, causing

personal injury

to hundreds more after consuming the tainted fruit. Now, officials say the listeria outbreak was probably caused by unsanitary conditions at the packing facility in Jensen Farms where the melons were traced.

After government investigators surveyed the farm, they discovered that dirty pools of water nearby the packing facility carried a listeria contamination. As workers walked through the puddles, they tracked the bacteria around the packing shed which then found its way on a conveyor belt and a likely melon drying area where cantaloupes were processed.

“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.

Listeria is a harmful bacteria that, when ingested, can cause serious health problems to include nausea, dizziness, vomiting, and even other severe symptoms to include paralyzation, miscarriage, and death. The bacteria can often be sourced to animal urine and feces, therefore making manure-rich soil found on fruits a vegetables a leading cause of transmission. But as in the cantaloupe recall, sometimes listeria can harbor in unsafe and unsanitary working conditions which is a concern when food is processed nearby.

More produce affected by the listeria bacteria

Unfortunately, the listeria outbreak has not been exclusive to cantaloupes alone.  Other produce products have also been recalled due to the same outbreak. FDA officials randomly test incoming produce and have been on careful watch to screen products before they hit the shelves. However, like in the case of the cantaloupe recall, sometimes products are consumed once it’s too late. The following list represents recent food items that have been recalled within the last month due to listeria as of Oct. 20. Go to for up-to-date information on all food recalls that might affect you.

  • Fair Oaks Blue Cheese
  • Farmers Market 8 oz Shredded Lettuce
  • Farmers Market7 oz Parisian Blend
  • Farmers Market 9 oz Leafy Romaine
  • Farmers Market12 oz Romaine Garden
  • Hy-Vee8 oz Shredded Iceberg
  • Hy-Vee12 oz American Blend
  • Hy-Vee12 oz Garden Supreme
  • Hy-Vee12 oz Romaine Garden
  • True Leaf Bagged Romaine
  • Publix Spinach Dip
  • Del Bueno Casero Cheese
  • Fine Mexican Food Products Avocados
  • Vita Classic Smoked Salmon

Other ways listeria can be transmitted

Unfortunately, listeria can be transmitted in other ways besides produce products.

Unclean surfaces

It’s a good idea to keep countertops and other kitchen surfaces clean. In unsanitary conditions, especially in a warm and comfortable home, listeria can grow. This hardy bacterium likes to reproduce even in cold temperatures.

Swimming pools

Generally, an at-home pool is low risk for listeria. However, resort and hotel pools can often be culprits since many individuals are often bathing at once. The combination of bacteria can potentially cause a listeria infection; however, most good facilities routinely shock the water with chlorine even during peak times to ensure the water is safe for swimming.



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