Cantaloupes Tied to Deadliest Listeria Outbreak in a Decade

A <"">Listeria outbreak linked to Jensen Farms cantaloupe now ranks as the deadliest food poisoning outbreak in a decade. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), as many as 16 people may have died after eating the Listeria-tainted cantaloupe, and a total of 72 illnesses have been tied to the outbreak.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) found Listeria monocytogenes in samples of Jensen Farms’ Rocky Ford-brand cantaloupe taken from a Denver, Colorado, area store and on samples taken from equipment and cantaloupe at the Jensen Farms’ packing facility. The FDA said that Listeria found in the samples matches one of the three different strains of Listeria monocytogenes associated with the multi-state outbreak.

On September 14, Jensen Farms recalled its Rocky Ford-brand cantaloupes in response to the multi-state outbreak of listeriosis. Jensen Farms shipped the recalled cantaloupes from July 29 through September 10 to Arkansas, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia and Wyoming. Some of the cantaloupes may have been distributed to other states once they reached their destination. FDA officials are also concerned that the Rocky Ford melons may remain in consumers’ homes.

According to the CDC’s most recent update, 13 deaths have been linked to the tainted cantaloupe, and three other deaths are being investigated in connection with the Listeria outbreak. Deaths have been reported in eight states, including four in New Mexico, two in Colorado, and two in Texas and one each in Kansas, Maryland, Missouri, Nebraska and Oklahoma. The three deaths under investigation occurred in New Mexico, Kansas and Wyoming, the CDC said.

Cases of Listeria were reported in California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Maryland, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. States with the highest number of illnesses include Colorado (15), Texas (14), New Mexico (10), and Oklahoma (8).

According to a report from the Associated Press, 1998 was the last time a food poisoning outbreak in the U.S. took more lives. That year, 21 people died from Listeria traced to contaminated hot dogs and possibly deli meats made by Bil Mar Foods, a subsidiary of Sara Lee Corp. Prior to that, 52 people died in 1985 in an outbreak tied to Mexican-style soft cheese.

There is an excellent chance that the toll from this outbreak will go higher, the Associated Press said. According to a CDC official, it can take four weeks or more for a person to fall ill after eating food contaminated with Listeria.

The CDC is recommending that anyone at high risk for listeriosis, including older adults, persons with weakened immune systems, and pregnant women, avoid eating
Rocky Ford cantaloupes from Jensen Farms. Even if some of the cantaloupe has been eaten without becoming ill, dispose of the rest of the cantaloupe immediately. Listeria bacteria can grow in the cantaloupe at room and refrigerator temperatures. According to the FDA, consumers should not try to wash the harmful bacteria off the cantaloupe as contamination may be both on the inside and outside of the cantaloupe. Cutting, slicing and dicing may also transfer harmful bacteria from the fruit’s surface to the fruit’s flesh.

According to the CDC, symptoms of Listeria may include fever and muscle aches, often preceded by diarrhea or other gastrointestinal symptoms. In pregnant women, Listeria may present as only a mild, flu-like illness. However, infections during pregnancy can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, premature delivery, or life-threatening infection of the newborn. In other Listeria victims, symptoms such as headache, stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance, and convulsions may also be present.

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