Cantaloupe Listeria Death Toll Rises Again

Tragically, but not unexpectedly, the <"">cantaloupe Listeria death toll continues to rise. As of current U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data, two additional deaths have been reported, bringing the total dead to 23 and the total sickened to 116 people. This particular outbreak involves 25 states—up from 23—and four strains of Listeria monocytogenes, which can lead to the dangerous and deadly listeriosis.

The outbreak has led to a recall of over 300,000 cases of Holly, Colorado’s Jensen Farms whole Rocky Ford cantaloupes. Last week, we wrote that Fruit Fresh Up Inc. of Depew, New York recalled nearly 5,000 individual packages of its “Fresh Cut Cantaloupe and Cut Mixed Fruit Containing Cantaloupe” in response to the outbreak.

Last month, the FDA discovered Listeria monocytogenes in samples of Jensen Farms’ Rocky Ford-brand cantaloupe taken from a Denver area store and on samples taken from equipment and cantaloupe at Jensen Farms’ packing facility. On September 14, Jensen Farms recalled its Rocky Ford-brand cantaloupes in response to the multi-state outbreak of listeriosis.

As we’ve mentioned, according to the CDC, symptoms of Listeria poisoning may include fever and muscle aches, often preceded by diarrhea or other gastrointestinal symptoms. In other Listeria poisoning victims, symptoms such as headache, stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance, and convulsions may also be present. WebMD pointed out that listeriosis can cause fatal meningitis or encephalitis. Listeriosis symptoms can appear as quickly as within three days, but can take up to two months to appear. Typically, said WebMD, the incubation period is about one-to-three weeks.

Pregnant women are the most susceptible to Listeria poisoning and may exhibit only a mild, flu-like illness. Infections during pregnancy can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, premature delivery, or life-threatening infection of the newborn. To date, four illnesses involved in this outbreak involved pregnant women; three became ill while pregnant, one suffered a miscarriage; one newborn was diagnosed with listeriosis, said WebMD.

Cantaloupe has a shelf life of about two weeks, so the produce is likely inedible; however, consumers might have kept the produce refrigerated, not realizing that Listeria monocytogenes easily survives in the cold. Consumers are urged to discard any Jensen Farms cantaloupe and sanitize kitchen surfaces, the refrigerator, and kitchen implements that might have been in contact with the potentially tainted fruit. The investigation into the origin of the Listeria poisoning outbreak continues.

This has become the second-largest Listeria poisoning outbreak in U.S. history, noted WebMD, second only to a 1985 outbreak in which 142 people were sickened after consuming contaminated Mexican-style cheese made with unpasteurized milk.

WebMD reported that case reports have been received from 25 states: 1 each in Alabama, Arkansas, California, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Montana, New York, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Virginia, and West Virginia; 2 each in Louisiana and Wisconsin; and 3 each in Indiana and Wyoming. Colorado has had the most reports (34), followed by Texas (17), Oklahoma (11), New Mexico (13), Kansas (7), Nebraska (6), and Missouri (4).

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