State health officials are questioning why they were not notified sooner that cantaloupe possibly contaminated with life-threatening listeria had been shipped to Louisiana.
Louisiana was one of three states added to Colorado’s Jensen Farms cantaloupe recall list on Sept. 29 — two weeks after the initial recall covering 17 states.
The state Department of Health and Hospitals did not get notice until Sept. 30, officials said.
“Here we were told we were not a state to be concerned,” said Dr. Jimmy Guidry, the state medical director.
“Now, you almost have to be afraid every time you see something in the news” about a recall, he said.
Guidry said most of the suspect cantaloupe has already been eaten or has rotted by now.
“It’s too late to worry about the cantaloupe now,” the state medical director said, but he added people still need to watch for symptoms of listeria.
DHH is investigating the listeria-linked death last weekend of Elaine F. Babcock, 87, of Baton Rouge.
State epidemiologists are trying to determine whether the listeria that killed her is the same strain linked to the Jensen Farms cantaloupes.
Listeria is a bacterial infection that is particularly hazardous to older adults, those with compromised immune systems, pregnant women and newborns.
Guidry said those in high-risk groups who have eaten cantaloupe in the past three weeks should contact their physicians if they experience symptoms including fever, muscle aches, nausea or diarrhea.
“It can live in the stomach two months before you get sick,” he said.
Jensen Farms spokeswoman Amy Philpott said the company relied on a computer list in its initial Sept. 14 recall notice. Later, the company discovered that on the shipping dock, customers redirected where some cantaloupes were going and the recall list was expanded Sept. 29 based on that discovery, she said.
“There was a manifest override and it went to Louisiana,” Philpott said.
While the state was not on the initial recall list, Philpott said the company alerted their direct customers on Sept. 14 of the contamination problem.
“We gave them a list of particular orders,” she said. “Certainly, the customer who ordered the produce, our direct customers, were notified.”
Guidry said, based on recent interviews, state investigators are finding that that word of the recall did not get passed along to Louisiana retailers and their suppliers until recently.
The cantaloupes were sent to various locations around the state, he said.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration will have to figure out where the notification responsibility lies, Guidry said.
The FDA needs to develop better rules on tracking of food products, he said.
“Here’s a good example of what happens when you don’t know where it ends up,” Guidry said.
“You have this outbreak in the country and you are not sure where the food is coming from. Are we going to have to be alarmists for every outbreak?”
The state has had the same concerns about tracking of seafood products because of the influx from foreign countries and the repackaging of seafood, Guidry said.