Listeria Poses Threat In Spite Of Cantaloupe Recall

Although Jensen Farms issued a recall for cantaloupe linked to an ongoing <"">Listeria infection outbreak a few weeks ago, illness reports could be received for weeks to come.

Experts say that Listeriosis—the infection caused by the Listeria monocytogenes pathogen—can manifest with symptoms up to two months after consuming contaminated food. While the cantaloupes are no longer on store shelves, consumers may have potentially contaminated produce in their homes, noted USA Today. This, coupled with the pathogen’s fairly long incubation period, is worrisome, according to Caroline Smith DeWaal, food safety director at the Center for Science in the Public Interest in Washington, D.C., wrote USA Today.

The illness and death toll have, sadly, continued to grow in recent weeks with 60 people reporting illnesses and 10 potential deaths in the now-15-state outbreak, said USA Today, which noted that as of late last week, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed 14 states, 55 illnesses, and 8 deaths.

Two more deaths were reported on Friday in Kansas. “We are waiting on the medical examiner to say the cause of death,” said Barbara Hersh, public information officer for the Kansas State Department of Health and Environment in Topeka, wrote USA Today. The two people who died did test positive for the Listeria pathogen, “but we don’t know if that was their primary cause of death. And we don’t know if the two who died were part of the five who CDC confirmed were part of the national outbreak yet,” added Hersh, said USA Today.

As we’ve written, 300,000 cases of whole cantaloupes grown at Jensen Farms were shipped between July 29th and September 10th, 2011 to Illinois, Wyoming, Tennessee, Utah, Texas, Colorado, Minnesota, Kansas, New Mexico, North Carolina, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Arizona, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania. The additional five states now included are Arkansas, California, Idaho, Ohio, and Oklahoma, said the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

This is considered the deadliest food borne illness outbreak in the U.S. since 9 people died in 2008 and 2009 due to Salmonella infections, said CDC spokeswoman, Lola Russell, who also said t she wouldn’t be surprised if the numbers continue to rise. “We could see more because it can be in a person’s system for up to two months before it presents itself,” Russell told Reuters previously.

The growing outbreak has been linked to Rocky Ford-region brand whole cantaloupe supplied by Jensen Farms of Holly, Colorado. Jensen Farms issued a recall on September 14th followed by a statement from spokeswoman Amy Philpott confirming the presence of Listeria in one of its Rocky Ford cantaloupes. Testing also confirmed four Listeria strains have been linked to those who have fallen ill and who consumed the potentially contaminated cantaloupes

As we’ve mentioned, the Listeria outbreak has led to at least one lawsuit; more are expected. Tammy and Charles Palmer allege the cantaloupe Charles (71) ate tested positive for Listeria. “The doctors told me it was Listeria. The health department told me that it was the cantaloupe,” Tammy told 7News.

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