Labor seeks probe over listeria warnings

NSW Labor says the Berejiklian govt took weeks to warn the public about listeria in rockmelons.
NSW Labor says the Berejiklian govt took weeks to warn the public about listeria in rockmelons.

NSW Labor is calling for an independent investigation into the handling of the fatal listeria outbreak linked to contaminated rockmelon in Australia.

The state opposition claims the NSW Food Authority and Berejiklian government took weeks to warn the public after beginning investigations in January and says the government has "serious questions to answer".

Authorities issued an alert in late February and confirmed last week that three of the 15 elderly people diagnosed with listeria had died.

"We are dealing with the health and safety of families and they have a right to know at the time - not weeks or months later," NSW opposition spokesman Mick Veitch said in a statement on Monday.

"This is about protecting the community; it is unacceptable to have such a long delay in notifying the community."

NSW Health on Sunday 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 rockmelon from a grower near Griffith was the likely source, it said.

The producer in Nericon voluntarily stopped production after being told of the contamination.

NSW Primary Industries Minister Niall Blair on Monday said there was no delay and everything had been done "by the book".

He told ABC's Country Hour that Labor's call was irresponsible, showed a poor understanding of the issue and was insulting to the professionals working in NSW Health and the NSW Food Authority.

Pregnant women, the elderly and people with a compromised immune system have been warned to stay away from pre-cut rockmelon following the outbreak.

Crisis talks were held between the melon industry and retailers across the country on Thursday with the industry agreeing to review how it packs its fruit.

Australian Associated Press