Update: Death toll from the listeria outbreak climbs to 16 across 18 states!
An outbreak of Listeria from a Colorado cantaloupe farm have claimed the lives of at least 13 across the nation. So far, there have been 72 cases confirmed across 18 states in what appears to be the deadliest outbreak of food-borne diesease in over a decade and the third deadliest all-time. In 1985, cheese contaminated with listeria killed 52 people. In 1998, listeria-contaminated hot dogs killed 21 people. Federal health officials are warning perople that the number of cases could climb in the coming days and weeks. An infected person may not start feeling symptons of Listeria until after a couple of months.
Public health officials have traced this outbreak to contaminated whole cantaloupes grown at Jensen Farms’ production fields in Granada, Colorado. The company issued a voluntary recall of its Rocky Ford brand cantaloupes two weeks ago. Recalls were also issued for several products using cut cantaloupes from Jensen Farms.
Colorado and New Mexico have been hit the hardest. To date, 15 people have fallen ill in Colorado and two have died in that state. In New Mexico, 10 have gotten sick and four have died.
Here is a list of the other states reporting illnesses from listeria:
- California (1)
- Florida (1)
- Illinois (1)
- Indiana (2)
- Kansas (5)
- Maryland (1)
- Missouri (1)
- Montana (1)
- Nebraska (6)
- North Dakota (1)
- Oklahoma (8)
- Texas (14)
- Virginia (1)
- West Virginia (1)
- Wisconsin (2)
- Wyoming (1)
Federal health officials advise consumers to check the labels on any cantaloupes, or call the store where they bought the fruit to determine the supplier.
Federal health officials said it remains unclear what the exact source of contamination was at Jensen Farms. However, investigators are analyzing multiple factors including water quality, rinsing and packing procedures and any animals that may have had contact with the production fields.
While many persons exposed Listeria do not become ill, the bacteria poses a heightened risk to pregnant women, the elderly, newborns and persons with weakened immune systems.
The Center for Diesease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations for protecting against Listeria are similar to precautions against other food-borne illnesses:
- Cook raw meat
- Reheat pre-cooked meats (such as hot dogs and deli cuts)
- Rinse raw vegetables and fruit before serving
- Avoid unpasteurized dairy products
- Thoroughly wash hands, knives, cutting boards and countertops after preparing food to avoid cross-contamination
The CDC’s website advises, “Consumers and food preparers should wash their hands before and after handling any whole melon, such as cantaloupe, watermelon or honeydew. Wash the melons and dry them with a clean cloth or paper towel before cutting.”
State officials say they are investigating three more deaths (one each in New Mexico, Kansas, and Wyoming) that may also be connected to the contaminated Colorado cantaloupes.
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