For coverage of the outbreak's effects on cantaloupe markets, go here.
(UPDATED COVERAGE, 3:03 p.m.) Twenty-one people had died from the Jensen Farms cantaloupe outbreak as of Oct. 7, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate. That surpasses the nine deaths attributed to salmonella-tainted peanut products several years ago, and represents the worst outbreak in more than a decade.
According to the CDC, 109 people in 23 states have been sickened in the outbreak. Among those sickened was a pregnant Iowa woman, the Iowa Department of Public Health reported Oct. 5. The woman recovered, but she suffered a miscarriage.
The contaminated cantaloupes were shipped by Granada, Colo.-based Jensen Farms, which began recalling product Sept. 12. The recalled cantaloupes were shipped from July 29 through Sept. 10. Most Rocky Ford cantaloupe shippers were at or near the end of their season when retailers began removing product from shelves.
“I think it went well — they pinpointed (the source) as quickly as they could,” said Glenn Boyet, senior director of public relations for the Newark, Del.-based Produce Marketing Association. “Our members are absolutely committed to food safety, and I think the industry response was very clear.”
Steve Patricio, president of cantaloupe shipper Westside Produce, Firebaugh, Calif., and chairman of the Dinuba-based California Cantaloupe Advisory Board, agreed.
“The Colorado public health department, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control got it right,” he said. “As they first became aware of a problem, these agencies warned consumers and began a thorough investigation.”
In “record time,” Patricio said, the agencies identified Jensen Farms, which stopped harvesting, packing and shipping and immediately recalled all potentially contaminated product.
Craig Wilson, vice president of quality assurance and food safety for Issaquah, Wash.-based Costco Wholesale Corp., also praised the produce industry and government’s reaction to the outbreak. In the future, however, he said it’s important that the cantaloupe industry adopt “test-and-hold” procedures to help prevent other outbreaks.
Costco is working with two large shippers on a test-and-hold program, and expects to have it in place soon, Wilson said.