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8 Dead From Listeria-Contaminated Cantaloupes

CDC: Deadly Listeria Bacteria From Cantaloupe Sickens 55 in 14 States
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Sept. 21, 2011 -- Eight people have died in the ongoing outbreak of listeria food poisoning from Colorado cantaloupes.

There have been four deaths in New Mexico, two in Colorado, one in Maryland, and one in Oklahoma.

The CDC now has 55 reported illnesses from 14 states: 

  • California (1 case)
  • Colorado (14)
  • Illinois (1) 
  • Indiana (1)
  • Maryland (1)
  • Montana (1)
  • Nebraska (4)
  • New Mexico (10)
  • Oklahoma (8)
  • Texas (9)
  • Virginia (1) 
  • West Virginia (1)
  • Wisconsin (2)
  • Wyoming (1)

Listeria cases in several other states may also be linked to the outbreak. These cases are still being investigated. Illnesses that began after Aug. 28 may not yet have been reported.

All illnesses began on or after Aug. 4. In all cases for which medical records are available, the patient was hospitalized.

Listeriosis, caused by Listeria monocytogenes bacteria, can cause lethal or disabling encephalitis and meningitis, usually in older people or those with weakened immune systems. Listeria can also cause fatal fetal infections in pregnant women.

Four distinct strains of listeria are causing the current outbreak. Strains linked to the outbreak have been cultured from Jensen Farms' Rocky Ford brand cantaloupe from a Denver-area store and from equipment and cantaloupe at the Jensen Farms packing plant.

No other farms, even in the Colorado's Rocky Ford growing region, have been linked to the outbreak.

Jensen Farms has recalled all cantaloupes shipped from July 29 through Sept. 10 to at least 17 states. Further distribution may have occurred.

The whole cantaloupes may have either of two stickers:

  • A green and white sticker that reads: Product of USA -- Frontera Produce -- Colorado Fresh -- Rocky Ford Cantaloupe
  • A gray, yellow, and green sticker that reads: Jensen Farms -- Sweet Rocky Fords

If you encounter unlabeled cantaloupes, you should ask your grocer where it came from.

If you have one of the recalled cantaloupes, be sure to dispose of it in a closed plastic bag in a sealed trash can to prevent people or animals from eating it.

If you've eaten some of a recalled cantaloupe and have not become sick, do not assume the cantaloupe is safe. Dispose of it immediately.

The FDA warns people not to try to wash bacteria from the recalled cantaloupes, as both the inside and outside of the melons may be contaminated.

Listeria monocytogenes bacteria are commonly found in the soil, where they eat dead plant matter. When consumed, the bacteria change their nature and become able to enter cells. Unless controlled by the immune system, they can escape the gut and enter the bloodstream. 

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