Melons contaminated with the deadly listeriosis bacteria were imported to at least nine countries in Asia and the Middle East from Australia, where an outbreak caused seven deaths, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
The WHO released a statement this week confirming that cantaloupe melons from the source of the outbreak in Australia – a single grower in New South Wales – were sent to Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, the UAE and Bahrain.
Australia’s Federal Department of Health notified the countries that received the affected produce in March, said the United Nations health agency.
“Due to the potentially long incubation period of L.monovytogenes [listeriosis], further outbreak cases may be reported,” it said.
“Import details have been provided through International Food Safety Authorities Network to the affected countries to enable them to take appropriate management measures including local recalls and risk communication.”
According to Singapore’s Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA), all consignments of cantaloupes that were imported into Singapore from the affected grower have been recalled and destroyed.
Listeriosis in a mild form can cause diarrhoea and fever in healthy people within a few days. However, it can cause septicaemia and meningitis among more high risk people – including pregnant women, infants, the elderly and people having treatment for cancer, AIDS or organ transplants.
Singapore’s Ministry of Health (MOH) said although there had been no report of anyone in the country having contracted the bacterial disease as a result of eating the fruit, it had directed doctors to notify suspected cases of listeriosis to the MOH.
“We will continue to monitor the situation closely,’ it said.
Since January, 20 cases of listeria poisoning were reported in Australia, which required hospitalisation. It also caused seven deaths and one miscarriage.
A NSW Food Authority investigation found that a contamination at a farm in Nericon, owned by Rombola Family Farms, growers of 50 years, occurred due to “adverse weather” including a localised storm and a number of dust storms, which increased the levels of listeria on the fruit prior to harvest.
WHO confirmed the cause of the outbreak is believe to be “a combination of environmental conditions and weather contaminating the surface of the fruit, with low levels of the bacteria persisting after the washing process”.
“The grower continues to work closely with the relevant authorities and has returned to supply [cantaloupes] during the week starting April 2, after testing cleared the property,” it said.