For coverage of Jensen Farms' August audit by PrimusLabs, go here.

(UPDATED COVERAGE, Oct. 20) Unsanitary conditions at the Colorado packing facility that shipped cantaloupes infected with listeria were likely contributors to the deadly listeriosis outbreak, according to the Food and Drug Administration.

That was the highlight of an Oct. 19 conference call with FDA, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Colorado health officials on the results of inspections of Granada, Colo.-based Jensen Farms, the source of the contaminated cantaloupes.

UPDATED: Packing shed at Jensen Farms likely culprit in outbreakAs of Oct. 18, the outbreak had killed 25 and sickened 123 people in 26 states, according to CDC.

The results of FDA’s Sept. 22-23 inspection of Jensen’s open-air packing facility, which turned up 13 samples testing positive for listeria, raised numerous red flags, said Sherri McGarry, a food safety official with FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition:

According to McGarry and an FDA report, the inspection found:

  • the facility’s design allowed water to pool on the floor near equipment and employee walkways;
  • the facility’s floor was constructed in a manner that made it difficult to clean;
  • packing equipment was not easy to clean and sanitize;
  • washing and drying equipment used for cantaloupe packing had previously been used for another agricultural commodity; and
  • fruit was not precooled before before being put in cold storage.

The problems in the packing facility likely hastened the spread of listeria, officials said. As for how the listeria got into the shed, the FDA inspection yielded two possibilities:

  • listeria could have been present in fields where cantaloupes were grown; and
  • listeria could have been in animal feces on a truck that delivered culled cantaloupe from Jensen Farms to a cattle operation. The truck was parked next to the packing facility.

McGarry and Jim Gorny, senior adviser for produce safety at the Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, said it was highly unusual for cantaloupe packing facilities to have the problems Jensen Farms has.

“We have no reason to believe (the problems at Jensen) are indicative of practices throughout the industry,” McGarry said.

In a news release, the Dinuba-based California Cantaloupe Advisory Board agreed, saying that the FDA inspection proved that the outbreak was “the result of one grower-shipper not following well-established food safety practices that have been in place throughout the melon industry for many years.”