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Cantaloupe Outbreak Needs U.S. House Hearing, Democrats Say

The U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee should hold a hearing on the outbreak of listeria in cantaloupe that has killed at least 15 people, two senior Democrats on the panel said.

The committee also should request documents dating to January 2010 from Jensen Farms, the closely held company that produced the tainted cantaloupes in Granada, Colorado, Democratic Representatives Henry Waxman of California and Diana DeGette of Colorado said today in a letter to Republican committee leaders.

The listeria outbreak, the first ever tied to cantaloupe, is the deadliest foodborne illness epidemic in more than a decade. The outbreak began about two months ago and had sickened at least 84 people in 19 states as of Sept. 29, killing 15, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. Jensen Farms recalled the melons on Sept. 14, and Food and Drug Administration officials said Sept. 28 they were working with Colorado officials to learn how the contamination occurred.

“An investigation and hearing would allow us to learn about the causes of this outbreak and understand actions that could be taken” by industry and the FDA “to prevent similar outbreaks in the future,” Waxman, the Energy and Commerce Committee’s top Democrat, and DeGette, senior Democrat on the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, said in the letter.

Inspection Records

The committee should ask Jensen Farms to submit records from all inspections of its facilities by federal, state or local officials, Waxman and DeGette said. The company also should submit all documents relating to allegations of product contamination and the names of all customers to whom it provided cantaloupe in the past year, the lawmakers said.

Waxman and DeGette sent the letter to Republican Representatives Fred Upton of Michigan and Cliff Stearns of Florida. Upton is chairman of the Energy and Commerce panel and Stearns heads the oversight subcommittee.

Listeria, a bacterium often found in soil and water, sickens about 1,600 people and kills about 260 in the U.S. each year, according to the CDC website. Animals can carry the germ without appearing ill. Pregnant women, the elderly and those with weakened immune systems are at greatest risk from listeria infections. Symptoms include fever and diarrhea.

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