Long road from farm to fork worsens food outbreaks

October 2, 2011 - 5:05 AM
APTOPIX Listeria Cantaloupe

Cantaloupes rot in the afternoon heat on a field on the Jensen Farms near Holly, Colo., on Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2011. The Food and Drug Administration has recalled 300,000 cases of cantaloupe grown on the Jensen Farms after connecting it with a listeria outbreak. Officials said Wednesday more illnesses and possibly more deaths may be linked to the outbreak of listeria in coming weeks. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Outbreaks of listeria and other serious illnesses linked to tainted food are becoming more common, partly because much of what we eat takes a long and winding road from farm to fork.

A cantaloupe grown on a Colorado field may make four or five stops before it reaches the dinner table.

There's the packing house where it is cleaned and packaged, then the distributor who contracts with retailers to sell the melons in large quantities.

A processor may cut or bag the fruit. The retail distribution center is where the melons are sent out to various stores. Finally it's stacked on display at the grocery store.

Imported fruits and vegetables, which make up almost two-thirds of the produce consumed in the United States, have an even longer journey.