Listeria monocytegenes is a bacteria that does two things very well: firmly takes root in certain environments conducive to its growth, and finds people who can least afford to come into contact with it. Listeria has a mortality rate around 20%. As a case in point, fully 99% of the 146 confirmed cases of Listeria illness linked to last summer’s cantaloupe Listeria outbreak had to be hospitalized, and 36 of them died.
That is why the results of a Northeast Ohio newschannel’s investigations are worthy of note, and are concerning, if not unsurprising. Garbage trucks, of course, contain many types of bacteria that can cause severe illness in human beings. An investigation by Channel 3 News collected samples of fluids spilling from garbage trucks in Cleveland, Cleveland Heights, Maple Heights and Brooklyn and had them tested. In addition to listeria, Accra Labs found very high levels of bacteria and low levels of salmonella.
Cleveland City Councilman Mike Polensek says homeowners in the Collinwood neighborhood he represents often complain about the filthy stains left behind by city trash haulers. “It becomes a major problem because you don’t know what’s in it,” said Polensek.
Some experts say a single drop of listeria is enough to make you sick. Children playing ball in the streets can easily come in contact with the contaminated fluid.
A number of cities, including Cleveland, are turning to newer container trucks which are not supposed to leak fluids.
But Channel 3 news found newer trucks leaking fluid in both Cleveland and in Maple Heights. A simple drain plug, which we found at a local store for less than $2, can be an easy fix. But service directors in several communities say the plug can pose a hazard to workers collecting the garbage. “That juice collects in the back of the packer and, eventually, splashes out onto our employees on the street,” said Ronnie Owens, the commissioner of the division of waste collection in the Cleveland Department of Public Service.
Environmental contamination, leading to eventual contamination of foods, hands, or other items that ultimately find their way into the mouths of human beings, really is the problem with Listeria. Again the cantaloupe listeria outbreak is a perfect example. Here is why it happened:
There could have been low level sporadic Listeria monocytogenes in the field where the cantaloupe were grown, which could have been introduced into the packing facility
A truck used to haul culled cantaloupe to a cattle operation was parked adjacent to the packing facility and could have introduced contamination into the facility
The packing facility’s design allowed water to pool on the floor near equipment and employee walkways;
The packing facility floor was constructed in a manner that made it difficult to clean
The packing equipment was not easily cleaned and sanitized; washing and drying equipment used for cantaloupe packing was previously used for postharvest handling of another raw agricultural commodity.
There was no pre-cooling step to remove field heat from the cantaloupes before cold storage. As the cantaloupes cooled there may have been condensation that promoted the growth of Listeria monocytogenes.
FDA’s findings regarding this particular outbreak highlight the importance for firms to employ good agricultural and management practices in their packing facilities as well as in growing fields. FDA recommends that firms employ good agricultural and management practices recommended for the growing, harvesting, washing, sorting, packing, storage and transporting of fruits and vegetables sold to consumers in an unprocessed or minimally processed raw form.