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Rockmelon Listeriosis Outbreak Update

Wednesday, 4 April 2018
PMA A-NZ

While the media coverage of the current Listeria outbreak in Melons has had lessened in recent weeks there is still a large amount of time being invested in reviewing the incident and working to reduce the likelihood of similar events occurring in the future.

As part of this PMA A-NZ has been actively involved in working with the Australian Melon Association and other relevant stakeholders on strategy and content, assisting members on withdrawal and replenishment decisions, with industry on technical issues and providing a number of media interviews.

The Australian Melon Association has continued to keep industry informed through teleconferences and email updates, to put out positive messages for consumers, and to work with the food authorities and retailers in efforts to rebuild consumer trust and hence recreate demand. Industry, through Hort Innovation, has also moved to commission levy-funded activity to redefine food safety best practice for growing and packing and deliver that message around the country.

There are already a number of good resources for industry including the Australian Melon Food Safety Guide from the AMA and the Guidelines for Fresh Produce Food Safety from the Fresh Produce Safety Centre A-NZ. All growers of produce are encouraged to refresh their food safety systems and their business culture in light of this tragic event, not just those in the rockmelon sector.

The New South Wales Food Authority continues to sample and test in a bid to identify the ultimate root cause of the outbreak despite having identified the farm and packhouse from which it originated. No report on findings is available as yet.

As a background on this event there have now been 19 reported cases, 6 deaths and one miscarriage associated with this outbreak.

The incubation period for the Listeria monocytogenes bacteria, which causes the listeriosis illness, is up to 70 days following consumption of contaminated food. Further illnesses could occur until 10th May. Until this period has elapsed, and despite the fact that new illnesses are increasingly unlikely as that date approaches, growers, foodservice businesses, wholesalers and retailers will be understandably wary of rushing in to a public relations campaign.

Rombola Family Farms were however withdrawn from sale around 23rd February and all other suppliers have been having product tested and hosting visits from retail and processor customers since. 

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