Refunds offered in recall of Aussie rock melons

AVA's recall decision follows deadly listeriosis outbreak Down Under; no cases reported here

Major supermarkets here are offering customers refunds on recent purchases of Australian rock melons, following the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority's (AVA) decision to recall all Australian imports of the fruit on Thursday.

The recall follows a listeriosis outbreak linked to contaminated melons from a farm in New South Wales which has killed at least four people. The Health Ministry said yesterday that there have not been any reported cases of listeriosis - the infection caused by the listeria bacteria - linked to the consumption of rock melons here.

While eating food containing the listeria bacteria does not cause illness in most people, it can lead to sickness and even death for those with weakened or compromised immune systems, such as newborns, pregnant women and the elderly. Symptoms of listeriosis include fever, muscle ache and diarrhoea.

In response to queries, a Dairy Farm Singapore spokesman said that all Australian rock melons were removed from Cold Storage stores on Thursday evening. Customers who had purchased them "within the last couple of weeks" may visit any Cold Storage outlet with a receipt for a refund, the spokesman said.

FairPrice said that it continues to offer rock melons imported from Indonesia and Honduras, and is offering refunds to customers who purchased Australian ones from Wednesday as a gesture of goodwill.

Sheng Siong, which had replaced the affected batch with smaller rock melons from Western Australia after the first recall, said it has since removed all the fruit from Australia from its stores and urged customers to dispose of those they had bought or return them for a refund.

Rock melons from Australia remained available for sale at some wet markets and fruit stalls yesterday afternoon, as information on the recall had yet to trickle down.

Fruit sellers at Ghim Moh market, Bishan and Toa Payoh said that they had not been informed of a recall by their suppliers.

At Toa Payoh West market, Mr Lim Teck Hee, owner of Jim Fruits, said that he called his supplier to return his stock of Australian rock melons after hearing the news yesterday morning.

"I just bought two boxes last week... I don't plan to order melons from elsewhere since no one wants to buy them now," said Mr Lim, 51.

Mr Lee Desmond Bernavey, director of fruit and vegetable wholesaler FreshDirect, said he is now stuck with 10 crates of Queensland rock melons costing several thousand dollars. "Money lost for me is better than life lost... Singapore has always had high standards for food safety, so we need to be responsible," said Mr Lee, 45.

The AVA said yesterday that food safety tests on samples of locally sold rock melons are ongoing, and the Listeria monocytogenes bacterium has not been detected in samples tested thus far.

Nearly 90 per cent of the 6,800 tonnes of rock melons imported to Singapore last year came from Australia, it added.

The expanded recall follows fresh information from the Australian authorities that more consignments of contaminated rock melons had been exported to Singapore.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 10, 2018, with the headline 'Refunds offered in recall of Aussie rock melons'. Print Edition | Subscribe