Outbreak Traced to Colorado Farm; 2 Dead, 20 Hospitalized in 7 States
By Daniel J. DeNoon
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD
Sept. 15, 2011 -- A second person has died of listeriosis as the outbreak from contaminated cantaloupes has spread to seven states.
Including the two deaths, 22 people have been sickened.
The CDC, FDA, and Colorado health authorities have traced the outbreak to Jensen Farms of Holly, Colo. It is not yet clear whether other farms in the Rocky Ford growing region are involved. The state of Colorado has warned people to avoid cantaloupes from the entire region.
The cantaloupes were recently harvested and widely distributed in the U.S. They may still be available in grocery stores.
Jensen Farms has recalled their cantaloupes. According to the recall notice, the whole cantaloupes were shipped between July 29 and Sept. 10 to 17 states:
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
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 them.
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 two deaths linked to the outbreak strain of Listeria were in Colorado and New Mexico. Twelve cases have been reported in Colorado, one in Indiana, one in Nebraska, four in New Mexico, one in Oklahoma, two in Texas, and one in West Virginia.
However, several other states are investigating suspicious cases of Listeria food poisoning that may be linked to the outbreak.
Cases reported so far range in age from 38 to 96 years. Most of those sickened in the outbreak are over 60 years old.
Although listeriosis is a food-borne illness, symptomatic disease usually means the bacteria have escaped the digestive tract and are spreading throughout the body. Listeriosis sometimes results in fatal meningitis or encephalitis. Of the estimated 1,600 U.S. cases of listeriosis each year, there are 260 deaths.
- While pregnant women usually get a mild flu-like illness, Listeria infection can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, premature delivery, or fatal infection of the newborn.
- Other adults may develop headache, stiff neck, mental confusion, loss of balance, and convulsions.
Foods typically linked to listeriosis are deli meats, hot dogs, and soft cheeses made with unpasteurized milk. Produce is less often linked to outbreaks, although Listeria occurs in soil and water. Listeria are killed by cooking, but can grow and multiply in refrigerators.
How to Avoid Listeria
As contaminated cantaloupes may still be in grocery stores or in people's homes, the CDC has issued this advice:
- People at high risk for listeriosis, including older adults, people with weakened immune systems, and pregnant women, should not eat cantaloupes marketed as coming from the Rocky Ford region of Colorado.
- People who have cantaloupes in their homes can check the label or inquire at the store where they purchased them to determine if the fruit was marketed as coming from the Rocky Ford region of Colorado.
- Listeriosis primarily affects older adults, people with weakened immune systems, pregnant women, and newborns. People who think they might have become ill from eating possibly contaminated cantaloupes should consult their doctor immediately.
- Cantaloupes marketed as coming from the Rocky Ford region should be disposed of in a closed plastic bag placed in a sealed trash can. This will prevent people or animals from eating them.
As other foods besides cantaloupes can carry Listeria, the CDC recommends these general steps to avoid listeriosis:
- Rinse raw produce, such as fruits and vegetables, thoroughly under running tap water before eating. Dry the produce with a clean cloth or paper towel before cutting them up.
- Thoroughly cook raw meat and poultry.
- Heat hot dogs, deli meats, and cold cuts until they are steaming hot just before serving.
- Do not drink raw (unpasteurized) milk and do not eat fresh soft cheeses that have unpasteurized milk in them, especially Mexican-style cheeses like queso fresco.
- Be sure that your refrigerator is at or below 40 degrees F and your freezer is at or below 0 degrees F by using a refrigerator thermometer.