FOOD SAFETY NEWS SCAN: Cantaloupe Listeria update, turkey plant's safety plans, consumer missteps

Oct 7, 2011

Cantaloupe Listeria outbreak expands to 109 cases, 21 deaths
Nine more cases and three more deaths have been reported since Oct 3 in the Listeria outbreak tied to cantaloupe, bringing the totals to 109 cases with 21 deaths, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said today. Four states—Iowa, New York, Oregon, and South Dakota—had their first cases, raising the number of affected states to 24, the CDC update shows. The latest deaths included one each in Indiana, New York, and Wyoming. The cases have been linked to Rocky Ford brand cantaloupe from Jensen Farms in Colorado. Most of those sickened in the outbreak are over the age of 60, and the median age is 77. Nearly all patients for whom information was available—105 of 107—were hospitalized. CDC officials have called the outbreak the most deadly foodborne disease episode in a decade. Last week officials said they expected reports of cases to continue for several weeks, as the incubation time for listeriosis is up to 2 months.
Oct 7 CDC outbreak update
In a related development, a company in western New York has recalled 4,800 packages containing cantaloupe because of possible Listeria contamination related to the Jensen Farms recall, the Associated Press reported today. The firm, Fruit Fresh Up Inc. of Depew, said the products included cantaloupe pieces and various fruit salads sold in the Buffalo area through stores and caterers between Aug 31 and Sep 11, the story said.
Oct 7 AP report

Cargill promises aggressive safety system for Arkansas turkey plant
Cargill Inc. promises that its turkey processing plant in Springdale, Ark., which was blamed for the widespread Salmonella Heidelberg outbreak tied to ground turkey this past summer, will set a new standard for food safety precautions when it reopens, according to a Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) report. After the outbreak prompted a shutdown of the plant in early August, the company steam-cleaned the equipment, added more bacterial washes, and increased Salmonella testing 10-fold, officials said. The plant was then restarted, but the US Department of Agriculture found that Salmonella was still present, leading to a second shutdown in early September, the story said. Cargill is considering adding more safety steps when the plant reopens, including a pressure treatment to kill bacteria in the meat and vaccination of turkeys against some Salmonella strains. Pressurization is already used on some Cargill ground beef products. Mike Martin, Cargill's director of communications, said the plant will have "the most aggressive, the most advanced testing and monitoring system" in the US poultry industry. The outbreak has caused 129 salmonellosis cases and 1 death, US health officials said last week.
Oct 6 MPR report

Study: Consumers show poor safety habits when handling ground beef
Consumers who were videotaped while preparing hamburgers were weak in hand-washing practices and often handled the meat in ways that could have caused cross-contamination, according to a study reported recently in the Journal of Food Protection. Two researchers from the University of California, Davis, videotaped 199 volunteers while they prepared hamburgers and salads. The volunteers also completed questionnaires about food safety after the taping sessions. Seventy percent of the volunteers cooked the meat to an internal temperature of 160ºF as recommended by the US Department of Agriculture, but only 13% knew the recommended temperature and only 4% used a meat thermometer. An average of 43 potential cross-contamination events occurred in each household, with hands as the most frequent vehicle of potential contamination. Participants washed their hands for the recommended 20 seconds in only 7% of cases, and the average hand-washing time was 8 seconds. "Analysis of food handling behaviors indicates that consumers with and without food safety training exposed themselves to potential foodborne illness even while under video observation," the report says.
Oct 1 J Food Protect abstract

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