If Listeria suspected, cleaning necessary

Sept. 27, 2011 at 9:24 PM
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WASHINGTON, Sept. 27 (UPI) -- With 16 deaths and 72 illnesses linked to cantaloupes grown in Colorado, a non-profit group says regulations are needed to help keep pathogens out of produce.

Caroline Smith DeWaal, the food safety director at the Center for Science in the Public Interest in Washington, said consumers are waiting for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to release guidelines and regulations on preventing pathogens contamination of produce.

"The CSPI is urging all consumers who know or suspect that they had a recalled cantaloupe in their homes to dispose of the cantaloupes in plastic bags and take additional precautions," DeWaal said in a statement. "These precautions include washing and sanitizing all surfaces touched by the cantaloupe to eliminate Listeria, such as counters, vegetable bins and shelves, sponges, and dishcloths. In addition, all food that might have touched the cantaloupe or a potentially contaminated surface should be discarded."

Melons have been implicated in at least 36 outbreaks since 1990, although the current outbreak is the first attributed to Listeria, DeWaal said.

The pathogen is super-virulent for older or immune-compromised consumers, with a hospitalization rate of more than 90 percent. It has a high mortality rate -- 16 percent -- and can cause miscarriages in pregnant women who are exposed, DeWaal said.

The cantaloupes have been recalled, but they may have left behind the deadly pathogen in consumers' homes and refrigerators, where it may live on for months, DeWaal warned.

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