FOOD SAFETY NEWS SCAN: More Listeria cases and deaths, European sprout advice

Oct 4, 2011

Sixteen more cases, 3 more deaths reported in Listeria outbreak
The toll in the widespread Listeria outbreak tied to cantaloupes has climbed to 100 cases and 18 deaths in 20 states, compared with 84 cases and 15 deaths in 19 states reported in the previous update on Sep 30, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported today. Idaho has reported its first case, and the latest deaths include two in Colorado and one in Kansas, the CDC update shows. The agency warned last week that it expected reports of cases to continue for weeks, because the incubation period for the disease is up to 2 months. The outbreak has been linked to cantaloupes from Jensen Farms in Colorado, which recalled its cantaloupes on Sep 14. The CDC has warned against eating Rocky Ford brand cantaloupes from Jensen Farms, noting that the risk is increased for older adults, those with weakened immune systems, and pregnant women.
Oct 4 CDC Listeria outbreak update

EFSA changes sprout advice to consumers
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) yesterday revised its advice to consumers on eating sprouts and sprouting seeds, no longer advising against their consumption but instead recommending they look to EU member states' food safety agencies for specific guidance. The EFSA said it took this step because the likely source of a Shiga-toxin–producing Escherichia coli (STEC) outbreak earlier this year—fenugreek seeds from Egypt—is no longer on the market. The agency also said its Biological Hazards Panel is carrying out a risk assessment on the EU production chain for sprouts and sprouting seeds and will publish a scientific opinion "in the coming weeks."
Oct 3 EFSA news release
The EFSA also released a wrap-up report yesterday on the outbreak, which said the uncommon E coli O104:H4 strain caused at least 3,134 cases and 40 deaths. The cases include 778 instances of hemolytic uremic syndrome, a serious kidney complication. The report also said a further 119 cases and 4 deaths are suspected to be linked to the outbreak. The agency said only 11 previous cases of O104 STEC have been reported in Europe, often linked to travel to the Middle East or northern Africa. Additionally, the report says that the failure to find E coli O104:H4 in any batches of suspected fenugreek seeds was "not unexpected," as contaminated seeds were likely no longer in stock and other factors would work against obtaining the outbreak strain. The EFSA report also states, "The preparation of fresh sprouted seeds seldom includes a step where bacterial contamination is eliminated. Hence, food preparation of fresh sprouted seeds is based on the understanding that they are sold as ready-to-eat, i.e. safe to eat as is, or following only minimal preparation. For fresh produce, this assumes and relies on a production process which prevents contamination and an ability to detect contamination when it occurs. These conditions have proven not to be satisfied in this case."
Oct 3 EFSA report

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