4 Dead From Contaminated Melons In Australia: Should Malaysians Be Worried?

Malaysia imports rockmelons (cantaloupes) from Australia.

There is a listeria outbreak in Australia

The outbreak is caused by the consumption of contaminated melons (cantaloupes), which has resulted in four deaths and affected 17 others.

"There have been two deaths in New South Wales and two in Victoria," Vicky Sheppard, director of communicable diseases at NSW Health was quoted saying by AFP, adding that two new cases took the total affected to 17 nationally.

Following the outbreak, Malaysian agriculture ministry has imposed a temporary ban on imported rockmelons from Australia

The decision was taken as a safety measure to prevent an outbreak from happening in Malaysia, Agriculture and Agro-based Minister Ahmad Shabery Cheek said.

"The import of rockmelons from Australia will be banned until the situation becomes better," Ahmad Shabery was quoted as saying NST Online.

Apart from Malaysia, other countries including Singapore and Indonesia have also prohibited the import of rockmelons from Australia.

Singapore's Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) on Thursday recalled all rockmelons from Australia as a "precautionary measure".

Indonesia, on the other hand, implemented the ban on 3 March and will destroy the rockmelons that have already entered the country.

The Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Minister has advised Malaysians to be extra careful, adding that Malaysia has a lot of locally-produced rockmelons which are safe for consumption

Agriculture and Agro-Based Industry Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Shabery Cheek.

Image via AFP/theSundaily

However, earlier this week, the Health Ministry was reported saying that rockmelons imported from Australia after 1 March were safe

According to a report in NST Online, the Health Ministry director-general, in a statement, said the ministry, through its Food Safety and Quality division, is working with the Australian High Commissioner Office on the matter.

"The grower has voluntarily stopped producing melons since Feb 23 following the contamination. And the High Commissioner's Office in Malaysia has also confirmed that melons exported to Malaysia after March 1 were safe," he added.

So what is listeria or listeriosis?

Listeriosis is a bacterial infection most commonly caused by Listeria monocytogenes. It can cause fever, muscle aches, nausea as well as diarrhoea.

Listeriosis, which is a form of food poisoning, can also cause severe illness, including severe sepsis and sometimes can result in lifelong harm and even death.

According to Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah, Director-General of Health, "Listeria bacteria could be found around us including in the soil and water. However, food contaminated with the bacteria do not pose serious disease to people but it could be hazardous to infants, elderly, pregnant mothers and people with a low immune system."

Health director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah.

Image via Ahmad Irham Mohd Noor/NST Online

The Director-General of Health has assured that the importer who had bought rockmelons from the farm before 1 March has been identified and the ministry has seized the fruits for checks

"The fruits will be released back to the importer once they are cleared from listeria infection. The importer has also voluntarily recalled the rockmelons from the market," NST Online quoted Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah as saying.

Positively, so far, there have been no reported cases of listeriosis infection due to the consumption of rockmelons in Malaysia

However, in case of any queries on the matter, members of the public are advised to contact the District Health Offices or State Health Department via this site.

As a safety precaution, here are the steps you can take to reduce the risk of getting listeriosis:

1. Make sure to thoroughly wash raw vegetables and fruits before eating, peel them just to be extra cautious.
2. Thoroughly cook raw food from animal sources, like beef, pork, poultry, etc.
3. Make sure you keep uncooked meats separate from vegetables, fruits, cooked and ready-to-eat food.
4. You can try to avoid raw (unpasteurised) milk or foods made from raw milk.
5. It would be a good idea to use separate sets of knives and cutting board for raw and cooked food.
6. Don't forget to wash hands and kitchen utensils such as knives and cutting boards after handling raw food. Practice hygiene.

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