Australia exported listeria-tainted melons to 9 countries including Malaysia and Singapore

The New Paper

Melons contaminated with deadly listeriosis bacteria were exported to at least nine countries from Australia, where an outbreak has killed seven people and caused one miscarriage, the World Health Organisation said on Monday.

The rockmelons, or cantaloupes, were sent to Hong Kong, Japan, Kuwait, Malaysia, Oman, Qatar, Singapore, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, and may also have gone to the Seychelles, a WHO statement said.

Between Jan. 17 and April 6, Australia reported 19 confirmed and one probable case of listeriosis, all of whom were hospitalised. Seven died.

The Listeria monocytogenes bacterium has a potentially long incubation period, usually one or two weeks but possibly up to 90 days, so more cases may be reported, the WHO said.

“Cases in the affected countries may still be identified,” it said.

The Australian melon producer, which the WHO did not name, recalled the fruit on Feb. 27.

On March 2 Australian authorities discovered the firm’s melons had been exported, and they sent detailed notifications through the International Food Safety Authorities Network to the countries concerned.

“It is believed that the cause of the outbreak was 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 WHO said.