Food safety stakeholders are warning people vulnerable to Listeria infection to avoid eating rockmelon, after 10 cases and two deaths were linked to the fruit
The NSW Food Authority has warned of a recent spike in listeriosis cases in elderly people.
It says all states and territories are working together to investigate the outbreak, which has seen 10 cases identified in elderly patients: six in NSW, one in Victoria and one in Queensland.
Onset of illness notification dates were between 17 January and 9 February 2018. All 10 victims consumed rockmelon before they became ill.
The outbreak has been linked to a grower in Nericon, NSW, which has voluntarily ceased production on Friday 23 February.
Affected products are being removed from the supply chain, but people who are vulnerable to listeriosis are still being advised to avoid the fruit as well as other foods which may cause the illness, and discard any older rockmelon they may still have.
The rockmelon cases make up only some of the increased listeriosis cases in NSW this year. The number now sits at 15.
“There has been a significant increase in listeriosis cases in January and February 2018 with 30 cases so far compared with 71 for all of 2017,” sayd Lydia Buchtmann, spokesperson for the Food Safety Information Council.
“This indicated a fresh produce item such as lettuce or rockmelon was the most likely source.”
“Listeria is found widely in the environment and rarely causes serious illness in the general population but for vulnerable people, such as those who are over 70, pregnant, or have diabetes, cancer or suppressed immune systems, it can be extremely serious or even life threatening,” she says.
Vulnerable people are being reminded to avoid all foods that pose a risk of listeriosis, including:
- Pre-cut melons such as rockmelon or watermelon;
- Pre-packed cold salads including coleslaw and fresh fruit salad;
- Pre-cooked cold chicken, cold delicatessen meats, pâté;
- Raw seafood, uncooked smoked seafood (e.g. smoked salmon);
- Unpasteurised milk or milk products, soft cheeses (e.g. brie, camembert, ricotta or blue-vein); and
- Sprouted seeds or raw mushrooms.
Dr Kim-yen Phan-thien, lecturer in Food Science and Coordinator of the Bachelor of Food and Agribusiness at the Sydney Institute of Agriculture in the Faculty of Science at the University of Sydney, says on the whole fruit and vegetables are safe.
However, “this does not mean that potential contamination of fresh produce will not happen in the future”.
“Fruit and vegetables are grown in natural environments, and as such are naturally exposed to environmental organisms. Our supply chains are complex and Australia has well defined food safety systems in place from farmer to retailer to minimise risks.
“The rockmelon industry is particularly vigilant because of the characteristics of the crop, for example, it’s grown on the ground and the rind has a netted surface that can trap soil and moisture.
“However, fresh produce is not sterile and no system is infallible.”