Often associated with "deli meats, hot dogs, and Mexican-style soft cheeses made with unpasteurized milk," it may have come as a surprise to some that cantaloupe and Romaine lettuce have been at the center of attention in a recent Listeria outbreak in the United States (FDA). The outbreak, the deadliest outbreak in a decade, has been blamed for 25 deaths as of October 18th. Naturally, such an outbreak and the tragic loss of life brings to mind many questions and concerns about food safety in the United States.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates "that each year roughly 1 in 6 Americans (or 48 million people) gets sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die of foodborne diseases." The extent of this outbreak may not be known for some time, as symptoms may not appear for up to two months after consuming the contaminated product.
In the meantime, debate and discussion concerning the state of food safety has abounded, as it seems to do whenever such outbreaks occur domestically or even internationally. As the food industry contends with tough economic times and deals with the Food Safety Modernization Act, this most recent outbreak could become an important juncture, or at least a part of a larger discussion of recent outbreaks, that will help shape the future of food safety in the years to come.
Balancing the realities of an overwhelmingly safe food supply with the news-worthy coverage of such outbreaks will be a challenge for the public as the debate continues. However this balancing act shapes out, the food industry, no doubt, will dealing with the issue in an increasingly public sphere. For more specific information on outbreaks, including this recent one, along with information on how the outbreaks are handled, check out the CDC's "Outbreaks" page.