House panel releases report on worst foodborne illness outbreak in 25 years

The House Energy and Commerce Committee released a new report Tuesday that sheds new light on the worst outbreak of foodborne illness in a quarter century.

Contaminated cantaloupes from Colorado infected 146 people in 28 states last year, resulting in 30 deaths and one miscarriage. The report follows staff interviews with Food and Drug Administration officials and agricultural producers and distributors; it concludes that the deadly listeria outbreak could have been avoided if Jensen Farms had maintained its facilities in accordance with existing FDA guidance, which is not mandatory.

"The committee launched an investigation to provide helpful information to the FDA, growers, distributors, and other authorities in their efforts to improve the safety of our nation's food supply," committee leaders said in a bipartisan statement. "The committee will continue to monitor upcoming examinations of the Listeria outbreak and related proposals to help prevent another such tragedy."

The report in particular faults the use of new processing equipment and the decision to implement a packing and washing technique involving water without added chlorine as two probable causes for the outbreak.