Officials at the Centers for Disease Control say cantaloupes contaminated with the listeria illness are linked to 16 deaths and 56 illnesses in multiple states. As state health inspectors conduct sweeping checks of grocers, wholesalers, and distribution centers to prevent additional spread of the contaminated fruit, the number of people sickened continues to rise. Meanwhile FDA investigators are trying to determine how the recalled fruit became infected.
Earlier this month Jensen Farms voluntarily recalled its whole cantaloupes when state health inspectors discovered listeria in cantaloupes at a grocery store in Holly, Colorado. The strain was also linked to a victim’s home and farming equipment at Jensen Farms’ packing plant in Granada, Colorado.
Although the recall will prevent any more contaminated melons from reaching store shelves, the problem lies in the fact that listeria typically incubates in your system for close to a month before any symptoms begin to show. Dr. Robert Tauxe of the CDC expects the number of illnesses to rise over the coming weeks.
“That long incubation period is a real problem,” Tauxe said. “People who ate a contaminated food two weeks ago or even a week ago could still be falling sick weeks later.”
According to Dr. Tauxe, listeria can be present in the body for four weeks or more before a person begins feeling ill. Symptoms include fever and muscle aches and sever upset stomach.
Listeria is capable of growing at both room temperature and even in your refrigerator. The FDA and the CDC advise anyone who may have had one of the contaminated cantaloupes to throw it out immediately and clean any surfaces it may have had contact with.
It is very important that consumers clean their refrigerators and other food preparation surfaces. Consumers should follow these simple steps:
· Wash hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds before and after handling food.
· Wash the inside walls and shelves of the refrigerator, cutting boards and countertops; then sanitize them with a solution of one tablespoon of chlorine bleach to one gallon of hot water; dry with a clean cloth or paper towel that has not been previously used.
· Wipe up spills in the refrigerator immediately and clean the refrigerator regularly.
· Always wash hands with warm water and soap following the cleaning and sanitization process.
Cantaloupes from Jensen Farms were shipped from July 29th through September 10th to distributors in 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.
The list of states reporting outbreaks includes: California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Maryland, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.
For additional information on Listeriosis (listeria infection) please visit the CDC’s special listeria webpage.