A rockmelon farm linked to the food poisoning deaths of six people will start selling fruit again this week.
Rombola Family Farms, in the New South Wales Riverina, voluntarily closed its doors in February after being linked to the listeria outbreak from contaminated rockmelon.
A total of six people have died from the outbreak since, but the farm will resume production this week after being given the all clear from the NSW Food Authority.
The farm reopened despite listeria symptoms sometimes taking up to 90 days to present in patients.
Rombola Family Farms (pictured), in the New South Wales Riverina, will start selling fruit again this week after it was linked to the food poisoning deaths of six people
The farm voluntarily closed its doors in February after being linked to the listeria outbreak from contaminated rockmelon (stock image)
The authority said on Wednesday that a combination of ‘environmental conditions and weather’ was responsible for contaminating the surface of the fruit.
‘Low levels’ of bacteria persisted after the fruit was washed at the farm.
More than 30 samples of melons through the supply chain tested positive to listeria and additional testing found the deadly bacteria in the farm’s packing area, the authority said in a statement.
Rombola was approved to resume production after passing a safety clearance program.
Three Victorians and three people from NSW died as a result of the outbreak, while another 13 people were infected.
The farm on Wednesday said it had been saddened by the outbreak’s impact on the community and the rockmelon industry.
The producer also claimed neither the NSW Food Authority nor an independent microbiologist had found a specific source of the bacterial infection linked to its farm or processes.
‘The company will undertake regular mandatory testing of produce, in accordance with the clearance program, supplemented by further daily voluntary testing,’ Rombola said in a statement.
The farm reopened despite listeria symptoms sometimes taking up to 90 days to present in patients (stock image)
The Australian Melon Association (AMA) said it is concerned the farm was given the all clear prematurely.
‘The bacteria persisted in the washing process – what exactly were the problems in the washing process?’ AMA industry development manager Dianne Fullelove said.
‘Growers are very anxious to understand what went wrong on the farm so that they can learn from the investigation.’
The industry wants growers to identify their melons so consumers can have confidence in the origin of the fruit.
WHAT IS LISTERIA?
WHAT IT IS, THE RISKS, AND HOW TO AVOID IT
- Listeria is everywhere in the environment
- It’s a type of bacterium that infects humans and other warm-blooded animals through contaminated food
- It’s found in dirty water, irrigation water, soil and fertiliser
- Soft cheeses such as Camembert; cold chicken and deli meats; raw seafood and cold seafood such as smoked salmon; ice cream, fresh fruit and bagged vegetables can also carry Listeria
- Infection can also occur through contact with animals and pests and insufficient cleaning of contaminated fruit and unclean hands
WHO IS SUSCEPTIBLE … AND THE SYMPTOMS
- Pregnant women, infants, the elderly and those with compromised immune systems are most at risk
- Listeria starts with flu-like symptoms such as fever, chills, muscle aches, nausea and sometimes diarrhoea
- The time from consuming the bacterium to showing the signs of illness can often be between 8 to 90 days
- Some people end up in hospital with dehydration
HOW TO AVOID IT
- Don’t buy bruised or damaged fruit, wash it before eating and refrigerate within two hours of slicing
- Avoid foods past their ‘best before’ or ‘use by’ date
- Cook foods thoroughly
- Reheat food until it is steaming hot
- Refrigerate leftovers promptly and use within 24 hours, or freeze
- Ready to eat food should never be stored in the fridge for too long as Listeria is one of the few pathogens that can grow in the refrigerator
Source: Food Authority NSW, Food Safety Information Council
‘Growers who are currently supplying rockmelons have been very diligent in re-examining their packing processes so that they can reassure the public that rockmelons are safe to eat,’ Ms Fullelove said.
All rockmelons that were available during the listeria outbreak in February were destroyed and Rombola will recommence supplying stores this week.
The melon industry has been encouraging Australians to resume buying the fruit since demand for it fell by 90 per cent after the outbreak was revealed.
Melons have begun reappearing on some major Australian supermarket shelves, with Woolworths confirming last week it had restocked local rockmelons at stores in Queensland and Western Australia.
It said shoppers in other states will have to wait a little longer.
Coles, however, said it was holding off from selling rockmelons as it continues to work with producers to meet its new increased standards.