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Another Man Dies After Eating Listeria-Tainted Colorado Cantaloupe

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Frontera Produce (cantaloupe) grown and packed by Jensen FarmsWhat Food Safety News calls the deadliest food poisoning outbreak in the U.S. in nearly 100 years has claimed another victim. Retired podiatrist Mike Hauser, 68, of Monument, Colorado, died on Tuesday, some five months after contracting listeriosis from the tainted Colorado-grown cantaloupe last September, reports Michael Booth for The Denver Post.

In all, an estimated 34 adults have died after eating the cantaloupes, all of which were grown and packed by Jensen Farms in Holly, Colorado, and distributed by Frontera Produce. The outbreak caused at least 146 people in 28 states to become ill. Jensen Farms recalled the cantaloupes on September 14.

Booth writes that like with many of the elderly listeria victims, Hauser’s immune system was already compromised when he ate the cantaloupe. In his case, he was recovering from multiple myeloma, for which he had been getting stem-cell treatments. The food poisoning left Hauser with seizures and in a coma, and when he came out of the coma, he was mostly unresponsive for weeks. It wasn’t until recently that he got out of the rehabilitation hospital. But an apparent infection sent him back to the hospital.

Booth reports that:

While the CDC’s [Center for Disease Control’s] ‘final’ December report on the deadly outbreak said cantaloupe had caused 30 adult deaths and one miscarriage, four more people with illnesses tied to the outbreak have since died, according to lawyers representing victims.

“In addition to Mike Hauser, fatalities not included in the CDC’s count are Paul Schwarz of Missouri, Sharon Jones of Colorado, and Dale Braddock of Nebraska,” Mary Rothschild reports in Food Safety News.

According to The Huffington Post:

9News reports that it remains unclear if Hauser’s death will be included in the CDC’s official list of at least 30 adult deaths and one miscarriage linked to the listeriosis infection because Hauser may have died from a different infection after having recently been treated for listeriosis.

A report by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Colorado officials attributed the outbreak to a lack of bacteria-killing solution in the wash water, and to dirty water pooling on and around a potato-sorting machine Jensen Farms had purchased to speed the production process, Booth writes. The Huffington Post reports that, according to the FDA last October, another factor that could have caused the listeria to develop in the melons was that the farm did not “pre-cool” cantaloupes off the fields to reduce bacteria growth.

As Booth writes:

A congressional report also faulted the food system’s reliance on private, ‘third-party’ auditors who are hired by farms and grocers to certify safe growing practices. Jensen and its distributors had a third-party auditor who gave the farm a high grade days before contaminated melons were shipped.

News reports say Jensen Farms is facing several lawsuits.

Image by U.S. Food and Drug Administration, used under Fair Use: Reporting.

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