The deaths of 25 people across the country due to listeria-infected cantaloupes can be blamed on filthy conditions unearthed through an investigation at Jensen Farms in Colorado, the root of the contamination.
According to the Food and Drug Administration, old, hard-to-clean equipment and germ-breeding pools of water on the packing floors is the likely culprit behind the spread of the disease.
Investigators found Jensen Farms did not have a pre-cooling system for the cantaloupes, allowing for condensation that can lead to listeria.
While federal investigators failed to pinpoint the original source of the contamination, they suspect a truck parked at the packing facility may have transported it in from cattle-grazed soil. Before the outbreak surfaced and escalated, there was no inspection history at the facility. The FDA said the deadly cantaloupe epidemic signals the need for farm cleanliness and increased safety measures in the fields and packing facilities.
"We are quite confident and certain that those factors led to the outbreak blamed so far for 125 illnesses in 26 states,” said Sherri McGarry, senior advisor to the FDA's CORE Network in the Office of Foods, who spoke at a press conference Wednesday.
Since the cantaloupe recall on Sept. 14, 25 people have died and more than 100 people have become sick from the contaminated cantaloupes.
Listeria is a type of bacteria that can cause food poisoning. The bacteria can lead to listeriosis, a serious infection caused by eating contaminated food.
Pregnant women are at high risk for listeriosis as infections during pregnancy can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, premature delivery or life-threatening infection of the newborn. Others at risk are those with weakened immune systems and adults older than 60.
“It’s too soon to declare the outbreak over,” said Barbara Mahon of the Centers for Disease Control.
Officials say Jensen Farms is closed for the season and won’t redistribute produce without proper clearance that it is safe.