Congress To Investigate Listeria Outbreak
October 22, 2011

Congress To Investigate Listeria Outbreak

A bipartisan group of Congressional Representatives is planning to investigate the ongoing Listeria outbreak that has killed 25 and resulted in at least one miscarriage, Roberta Rampton of Reuters reported on Friday.

Members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee have written to Ryan and Eric Jensen, the owners of Jensen Farms, the Colorado farm where the cantaloupes responsible for the outbreak originated. The lawmakers asked the Jensens "to brief committee staff and preserve documents related to the outbreak of listeria."

The lawmakers have also contacted the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), asking the two agencies to discuss what could be done to prevent this kind of thing from happening in the future, Rampton added. The FDA previously said that unsanitary conditions at the farm's packing plant may have played a role in the outbreak.

The House of Representatives' actions came on the same day that attorney and food safety expert William Marler released a statement, calling on lawmakers to investigate the contamination which resulted in the Listeria outbreak, which has also left at least 123 people in 26 states ill.

"It´s crystal clear that the entire chain of production -- from grower, processor, wholesaler, shipper and retailer -- is at fault in this outbreak. We are seeing a failure of the food protection system on several levels," he said, pointing out that Jensen farms had scored 96 out of 100 during a private, third-party food safety audit just days before the outbreak became public knowledge.

"For the sake of the families affected by this tragedy, for the future of production practices, and for the sake of the cantaloupe industry, Congress needs to conduct an investigation as soon as possible," he added. "At the core of this are mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters; all of whom have seen a loved one endure horrible pain and suffering or even death--all because they ate cantaloupe“¦ these people deserve an explanation."

As previously reported here on RedOrbit, CDC officials said on Wednesday that the cantaloupe at the heart of the outbreak had been contaminated during the packing process.

Additionally, FDA officials said that they had identified several factors that contributed to the introduction, spread, and growth of Listeria monocytogenes in the cantaloupes.

"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 organization said in a statement. "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."

The FDA said that an examination of the packing facility showed that water had accumulated in pools on the floor near equipment and employee walkways, that the floor there was difficult to clean, that the packing equipment was difficult to clean and sanitize, and that the same washing and drying equipment used to pack the cantaloupe had previously been used for other agricultural goods.

Also, the melons were not allowed to pre-cool from the hot field after being picked and before being placed into cold storage, which is a process that could have allowed condensation to form "that promoted the growth of Listeria monocytogenes."


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