UPDATE – OCTOBER 10
The recent outbreak of listeria in Colorado cantaloupes has claimed the lives of 21 people in 23 states from California to the East Coast, sickened 109 people and caused one miscarriage, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). It’s now the worst foodborne illness outbreak since 1998, when tainted hotdogs killed 21 people and sickened 100.
The number of illnesses and deaths is expected to grow. Louisiana has said it is investigating two listeria deaths possibly related to the outbreak that aren’t included in the CDC’s count.
CDC officials have said the symptoms of listeria can take up to two months to show up and that they expect more illnesses through October.
Officials from the CDC say cantaloupes that aren’t labeled, “Colorado Grown,” ”Distributed by Frontera Produce,” ”Jensenfarms.com” or “Sweet Rocky Fords,” are safe to eat. Toss out the rest, or any that are unlabeled.
The number of deaths linked to Colorado-grown cantaloupes keeps climbing, and it soon could become the second-deadliest U.S. outbreak of a food-borne illness.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 72 illnesses, including 13 deaths, have now been confirmed, and three more deaths are linked to the tainted fruit.
52 Died Of Listeria In 1985
The worst recorded listeria outbreak in the U.S. was in 1985, when 52 people died after eating tainted cheese.
Twenty-one people died in an outbreak of listeria poisoning in 1998 traced to contaminated hot dogs and possibly deli meats made by Bil Mar Foods, a subsidiary of Sara Lee Corp, the Associated Press reports.
The death toll released by the CDC on September 27, including newly confirmed deaths in Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska and Texas, surpassed the number of deaths linked to an outbreak of salmonella in peanuts almost three years ago. Nine people died in that outbreak.
Deaths In Colorado, Kansas, Maryland, New Mexico, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma
There are two confirmed deaths in Texas and one death each in in Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska.
Last week the CDC reported two deaths in Colorado, four deaths in New Mexico, one in Oklahoma and one in Maryland.
New Mexico officials said they are investigating a fifth death, while health authorities in Kansas and Wyoming said they too are investigating additional deaths possibly linked to cantaloupes.
The CDC previously reported that the outbreak has been traced to “Rocky Ford Cantaloupe shipped by Jensen Farms.” It added that Jensen Farms is voluntarily recalling Rocky Ford Cantaloupe shipped from July 29 through September 10, 2011, and distributed to at least 17 states with possible further distribution.
More About Listeria
Listeria is more deadly than well-known pathogens like salmonella and E. coli, though those outbreaks generally cause many more illnesses.
One of the problems with listeria is that symptoms including diarrhea and fever may not show up for days or even weeks after the food has been eaten. Listeria poses a threat in particular to the elderly, young children, pregnant women, and people with compromised immune systems. So the death toll could climb significantly in the coming weeks.
It’s important to wash produce completely before cutting it up because a knife blade can transfer the bacteria from the surface to the flesh.
Even though I don’t live in one of the affected states, I think I’ll avoid cantaloupe for a while. How about you?
Photo Credit: New21-USA