An investigation into the deadly listeria outbreak that killed seven people and caused a miscarriage earlier this year has been linked to heavy rain on a rockmelon farm.
The outbreak was traced to rockmelons produced by Rombola Family Farms in Nericon, near Griffith in southern New South Wales.
Between January 16 and April 10 this year, 22 cases of listeriosis were caused by eating the contaminated melons.
A newly-released report from the NSW Food Authority found that the farm’s hygiene and sanitation practices were as good or better than most other rockmelon-growing operations across the country.
However, the report found the farm endured heavy rain before the December harvest, followed by dust storms, which were likely to have “significantly increased” the amount of listeria bacteria on the melons.
The report also identified “peripheral” issues at the property packing facility, including some dirty fans and some spongy material on packing tables that could not be easily cleaned.
However, they were not deemed to be “major underlying causes”.
The report noted these issues had been addressed on the property, along with other measures such as increasing the use of chlorine for the melon pre-wash.
Further testing at the facility has detected no listeria bacteria on any fruit.
The report recommended an education campaign be launched to educate vulnerable consumers and their carers were aware of the risks of listeriosis.
NSW Health has urged at-risk people – including those who are older, pregnant, have diabetes, kidney disease, liver disease, HIV or weakened immune systems – to avoid eating pre-cut rockmelon.
Their full dietary advice can be found here.
“Eating foods that contain Listeria bacteria does not cause illness in most people, but in higher risk groups it can result in severe illness and even death so it’s vitally important these people take extra care at all times,” NSW Health director communicable diseases Dr Vicky Sheppeard said.
The deaths caused by this year’s listeriosis outbreak all occurred within high-risk groups, with the average age of all infected victims at 70 years.
© Nine Digital Pty Ltd 2018