As the press gushes over over cantaloupes grown in Colorado making it back on to store shelves, I thought the above headline might well be more appropriate. And, for those who have forgotten, on December 8, 2011, the CDC determined that deadliest foodborne illness outbreak was officially over and issued its final report. As of that date a total of 146 persons infected with any of the four (actually five) outbreak-associated strains of Listeria monocytogenes were reported to CDC from 28 states. The number of infected persons identified in each state was as follows: Alabama (1), Arkansas (1), California (4), Colorado (40), Idaho (2), Illinois (4), Indiana (3), Iowa (1), Kansas (11), Louisiana (2), Maryland (1), Missouri (7), Montana (1), Nebraska (6), Nevada (1), New Mexico (15), New York (2), North Dakota (2), Oklahoma (12), Oregon (1), Pennsylvania (1), South Dakota (1), Texas (18), Utah (1), Virginia (1), West Virginia (1), Wisconsin (2), and Wyoming (4). Thirty deaths were reported: Colorado (8), Indiana (1), Kansas (3), Louisiana (2), Maryland (1), Missouri (3), Nebraska (1), New Mexico (5), New York (2), Oklahoma (1), Texas (2), and Wyoming (1). In addition, one woman pregnant at the time of illness had a miscarriage.
The CDC a few months ago reluctantly reported that actually 32 people died (http://www.denverpost.com/breakingnews/ci_20021384).
I believe that number should now be 37 with the additional deaths of Sharon Jones, Paul Schwarz, Michael Hauser, Betty Mills and Dale Braddock who we do not believe the CDC has yet counted. It is also likely that others have died or have not officially been counted (like a death of a 75 year old man in Bozeman, Montana). In addition, dozens of others (my clients and not) are still suffering the impacts of eating Listeria-tainted cantaloupe. Most lives are forever changed for those who survived and the families of the 38 deaths (counting the miscarriage). Several of my clients’ acute phase medical expenses are over $7,000,000 total. Some will have similar expenses in the future. Despite the CDC’s determination of finality, it is far from over.
So, what has industry – farmers, shippers, brokers, auditors and retailers and the government really done since the beginning of the outbreak or the announced end? The answer is nothing much, if at all. Did any visit a family, attend a funeral, invite them to a Congressional hearing, to visit the FDA, CDC or the White House? Of course not – those people, alive or dead, and their families, are just uncomfortable statistics.
Food safety will only become important when consumers are not statistics.