Listeria outbreak and the pathetic system that allowed it to happen

What safeguards are put in place so you can trust your produce? Apparently not that much.

Third deadliest food outbreak in US history, the deadliest in the last 100 years. In other words, in this day and age that’s pretty pathetic. Cantalope was mishandled properly and contaminated with Listeria, killing more than 30 people. What’s concerning about this case is how easily this could have been avoided (isn’t that usually the case though) and how the farm and the inspectors really should have known better. Apparently the processing area of the farm was filled with contaminated condensation, contaminated puddles on the floor and old equipment that was dirty and very hard to clean. Gross. Quote from CNN article (

Just days before the Listeria outbreak, Jensen Farms paid a private food inspection company called Primus Labs to audit their operation. Primus Labs subcontracted the job to another company, Bio Food Safety, which sent a 26-year-old with relatively little experience to inspect Jensen Farms.

The auditor was James DiIorio, and he gave Jensen Farms a 96% score, and a “superior” grade. On the front page of his audit at the farm, DiIorio wrote a note saying “no anti-microbial solution” was being used to clean the melons.

Dr. Trevor Suslow, one of the nation’s top experts on growing and harvesting melons safely, was shocked to see that on the audit at Jensen Farms. “Having antimicrobials in any wash water, particular the primary or the very first step, is absolutely essential, and therefore as soon as one hears that that’s not present, that’s an instant red flag,” Suslow said. The removal of an antimicrobial would be cause for an auditor or inspector to shut down an entire operation, he said.

Sadly this can easily happen again because apparently the fresh produce inspection protocol is easy to get around and leaves a lot of room for error. There isn’t a government body available to inspect all fresh produce. There isn’t enough money or manpower, which makes sense considering how many farms there are in this country. The industry relies heavily on third-party audits, like the one used with Jensen Farms. There is nothing wrong with private companies providing a food inspection service however the government SHOULD be involved with these third parties. Perhaps as a training resource or as a certifier. There needs to be consistency.

So what is Listeria sickness and should we really be concerned? Like most illnesses, it usually only affects those with weakened immune systems, the elderly and pregnant women so most of us would be fine. However it is painful with frightening symptoms such as convulsions and loss of balance. What we should be concerned about is how Listeria usually is found in unpasteurized milk and improperly processed deli meats. It can survive refrigeration and freezing temperatures as well. And yet here it is on fruit, probably spread by the knife that cut through the fruit. To keep ourselves safe, we should wash all fresh produce – something recommended all the time but probably not followed by most (including myself).


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