A fourth person has died from listeria contracted from eating contaminated rockmelons, Victorian health authorities have confirmed.
A total of 17 listeria cases were confirmed across Australia, with two deaths each in Victoria and NSW following the outbreak linked to a rockmelon producer at Nericon, in the NSW Riverina.
While listeria is common in the environment and rarely causes serious illness, health authorities said the elderly, pregnant or those with suppressed immune systems were particularly vulnerable.
Authorities issued an alert in late February and confirmed last week that three of those people who had been diagnosed had died.
The latest victim died a week ago, but their death was only confirmed on Tuesday, the ABC reports.
Victoria’s deputy chief health officer Dr Brett Sutton said the death was linked to listeria following microbiological testing.
The rockmelon producer in Nericon, near Griffith, voluntarily stopped production after being told of the contamination.
The NSW Food Authority and Berejiklian government came under fire following accusations they took weeks to warn the public after beginning investigations in January.
But NSW Primary Industries Minister Niall Blair hit back, telling ABC’s Country Hour there had been no delay and everything was done “by the book”.
NSW Health previously defended its response, saying it followed established protocols and takes outbreaks “very seriously”.
The NSW Food Authority issued a warning on February 28 as soon as an investigation indicated the rockmelon was the likely source, it said.