Exclusive: Biosolids Near Farm Examined For Listeria Link

Treated Human Waste Applied Across From Farm Years Ago

A company that sprays treated human waste on Colorado fields is being questioned as investigators look into the source of a listeria outbreak tied to Colorado-grown cantaloupe.

The company that sprays the human waste, known as biosolids, confirmed to 7NEWS it has been contacted by investigators. State investigators confirmed they want to know if biosolids may have caused the contamination. The biosolids come from New York and are shipped to Colorado to be disposed of because New York cannot handle the volume of its human waste.

Parker Ag Services vice president Mike Shearp told 7NEWS that government investigators have questioned him in recent days as to where those biosolids were applied. He said the substance was applied to a field directly across from a Jensen Farms field years ago.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that cantaloupe grown by Jensen Farms is the source of the listeria outbreak that has killed eight people and sickened 55 people in 14 states.

Shearp maintained that the contamination will not be traced back to his operation.

"I have no concern at all because I know that there has never been an issue involving that, so I'm 100 percent confident that were not involved in this issue," said Shearp.

However, Colorado State University animal science professor Lawrence Goodridge said it is possible.

"If processed properly, there should not be pathogens. If they are not processed properly, if the wastewater treatment process breaks down, they could be (a) source of pathogenic bacteria such as salmonella, listeria and other pathogens," Goodridge said.

Biosolids are commonly used in many farms, said Goodridge.

While it has a safe track record in the United States, "in other countries, there have been outbreaks of food-borne pathogenic disease from biosolids," Goodridge said.

Dr. Michael Doyle, a national food safety expert from the University of Georgia, said it is possible for human waste to become dry -- like dust -- and then airborne.

A spokeswoman with Jensen Farms said the company does not use biosolids in its operation.

“Jensen Farms uses two types of commercial-grade fertilizer: heat-treated or pasteurized organic fertilizer and phosphorus-based nonorganic fertilizer. Both are approved for use on cantaloupe, among many other crops,” said spokeswoman Amy Philpott.

The Food and Drug Administration’s root-cause investigation and environmental assessment includes the on-site expertise of the federal and state microbiologists, environmental health specialists, veterinarians and investigative officers. The experts conducting the assessment are there to determine the most likely cause of contamination and identify potential controls to help prevent contamination in the future.

Recall Info

The FDA found that the recalled cantaloupes were also shipped to Arkansas, California, Idaho, Ohio and Oklahoma, in addition to the previously mentioned 17 states: Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Wyoming.

The cantaloupe may be labeled: Colorado Grown, Distributed by Frontera Produce, USA, Pesticide Free, Jensenfarms.com, Sweet Rocky Fords.

The cantaloupes are packed in cartons that are labeled: Frontera Produce, www.fronteraproduce.com or with Frontera Produce, Rocky Ford Cantaloupes. Both cartons also include: Grown and packed by Jensen Farms Granada, CO and Shipped by Frontera Produce LTD, Edinburg, Texas.

Not all of the recalled cantaloupes are labeled with a sticker. You should consult the retailer if you have questions about the origin of a cantaloupe.

The recalled cantaloupes were shipped from July 29 through Sept. 10.

What Is Listeriosis?

Listeriosis is a rare and serious illness caused by eating food contaminated with bacteria called listeria. People who think they might have become ill should consult their doctors. A person who becomes ill from listeria usually has a fever and muscle aches.

Listeriosis can be fatal, especially in certain high-risk groups. These groups include older adults, people with compromised immune systems and certain chronic medical conditions, such as cancer, and unborn babies and newborns. In pregnant women, listeriosis can cause miscarriage, stillbirth and serious illness or death in newborn babies, though the mother herself rarely becomes seriously ill.

Eight people have died from the latest outbreak. Two of the deaths have been in Colorado.

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