TWO people have died and a further eight have fallen seriously ill after eating contaminated rockmelons grown by a producer in the NSW Riverina region.
Ten elderly people across Australia, including three in Queensland and six in NSW, were diagnosed with listeria after consuming the contaminated melons between January 17 and February 9.
A NSW Health spokesperson said of the six who became ill in NSW, two of them subsequently died.
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The NSW Food Authority said the outbreak was linked to a grower in Nericon, in the NSW Riverina.
The company voluntarily ceased production last Friday after being notified of the outbreak and is working with the Food Authority to investigate how any contamination could have occurred.
Although listeria is found widely in the environment and rarely causes serious illness in the general population, it can be extremely serious or even life-threatening for vulnerable people.
As a precaution, people over the age of 70, pregnant women or those with a weakened immune system including diabetes and cancer are being urged to avoid eating the fruit altogether.
The NSW Food Authority has urged those most vulnerable to contracting listeria to throw out any rockmelon they may already have in their home.
“The affected product is being removed from the supply chain, so consumers can be assured rockmelons currently available on shelves are not implicated in this outbreak,” The NSW Food Authority said in a statement on Wednesday.
Listeriosis starts with flu-like symptoms such as fever, chills, muscle aches, nausea, and sometimes diarrhoea. It could take anywhere between a few days and six weeks for symptoms to first appear.
People at risk should consult their local doctor as early as possible should symptoms appear.
The NSW Food Authority and NSW Health will continue to work with other jurisdictions to monitor the situation.
Other foods that pose a risk of listeriosis include:
- Pre-cut melons such as rockmelon or watermelon
- Pre-packed cold salads including coleslaw and fresh fruit salad
- Pre-cooked cold chicken, cold delicatessen meats, pâté
- Raw seafood, uncooked smoked seafood (e.g. smoked salmon)
- Unpasteurised milk or milk products, soft cheeses (e.g. brie, camembert, ricotta or blue-vein)
- Sprouted seeds or raw mushrooms.
Further food safety advice relating to the safe preparation and storage of rockmelon can be found at www.foodauthority.nsw.gov.au/foodsafetyandyou/special-care-foods/rockmelons