Rockmelon crisis talks after listeria outbreak


Ten elderly people have been struck with listeria infection after eating contaminated rockmelon from a grower in the NSW Riverina region.

A NSW Riverina rockmelon grower has ceased production after a national listeria outbreak was linked to the death of two people in the state.

Australians have been urged to throw out any melons purchased before Wednesday after 10 elderly people across the nation, including six from NSW, were diagnosed with the infection.

Two of the six in NSW who became ill subsequently died, a NSW Health spokeswoman confirmed.

Australian Melon Association industry development manager Dianne Fullelove said the organisation would meet with supermarket operators on Thursday to discuss getting the fruit back on the shelves.

The outbreak has been linked to a rockmelon grower in Nericon, near Griffith, who has voluntarily ceased production after being notified of the contamination.

Ms Fullelove said the grower was devastated.

"No one wants to grow fruit that makes someone sick. He has a very good food-safety system in place but there has been a problem. He's bending over backwards to work out where that problem is," she told ABC radio on Thursday.

The melon association has urged people to discard or return any rockmelons purchased before Wednesday.

"Fruit on the shelf now is from farms that are not implicated," Ms Fullelove told AAP.

There have been a total of 15 cases of listeria infection in Australia this year.

Ten are being blamed on the consumption of contaminated rockmelon between January 17 and February 9, the NSW Food Authority said.

Eating foods that contain listeria bacteria does not cause illness in most people.

But for people with a compromised immune system it can result in severe illness and even death, Food Safety Information Council spokeswoman Lydia Buchtmann said.

"Listeria is found widely in the environment and rarely causes serious illness in the general population but for vulnerable people ... it can be extremely serious or even life-threatening," she said in a statement on Thursday.

Listeria starts with flu-like symptoms such as fever, chills, muscle aches, nausea and sometimes diarrhoea.

But the symptoms can take a few days or weeks to appear after eating contaminated produce.

The infection is particularly dangerous to the elderly, pregnant women and people who have underlying health conditions such as cancer, diabetes, heart and kidney disease.

Vulnerable people should avoid pre-cut melons such as rockmelon or watermelon.

People at risk should consult their doctor as soon as possible if symptoms appear.

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