The Listeria bacteria outbreak found in cantaloupes that began in mid-August has now claimed as many as 16 lives in a total of 18 states.
This is the deadliest food outbreak in over a decade.
The infected cantaloupes hail from Jensen Farms in Grenada, Colorado. The majority of the melons, under the name “Rocky Ford Cantaloupes,” were purchased whole from major chain grocery stores across the United States. The produce company, which boasts pesticide-free products, has voluntarily recalled the fruit.
There have been 72 reported infections, with New Mexico ranking highest at four deaths, and Texas and Colorado coming in second with two deaths each.
The bacterial agent which is responsible for Listeriosis, Listeria Monocytogenes, is the leading cause of death due to food borne illness in the United States, before Salmonella and Clostridium Botulinum.
Those with weakened immune systems, such as the elderly, pregnant, or newly born, are at especially high risk for contracting the illness. The Center for Disease Control is recommending that anyone with these high risk factors avoid eating the fruit.
The CDC reports that most people who have died were over the age of 60, and two were over 90.
Listeriosis is the third leading cause of meningitis in newborns. Those with a healthy immune system are highly unlikely to fall ill due to the infection.
Symptoms are similar to those of the flu, along with confusion, diarrhea and possible convulsions. The bacteria can be detected through a spinal fluid or blood test.
The Listeria bacteria is found in soil, water and animals. It can infect raw foods, such as vegetables and fruits, along with processed meats, soft cheeses, seafood, and unpasteurized milk.
Although Listeria is usually found in animals products, it has been found in other fresh produce cases, such as sprouts in 2009 and fresh cut celery in 2010.
Listeriosis proves especially dangerous because it can grow in foods at room temperature or refrigerated. The Center for Disease Control suggests that buyers throw away any potentially infected food.
Another way to avoid potential infection of fresh produce is to thoroughly wash all fruits and vegetables.
Salmonella Panama was also detected in Cantaloupe in March 2011.