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Cantaloupes Linked to Listeria Outbreak

Farm issues voluntary recall of infected melons traced to Rocky Ford region of Colorado.

Sliced cantaloupeA Colorado farm recalled cantaloupes sold between July 29 and September 10 out of concern the fruit may be infected with listeria, a deadly strain of bacteria. Sixteen people from five states were found to be infected with the outbreak-associated strains of Listeria monocytogenes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The infected melons, traced to the Rocky Ford region of Colorado, sickened 11 people in Colorado and also reached Indiana, Nebrask, Oklahoma and Texas.

Fortunately, the outbreak was caught and the recall has started early enough to ensure that no serious catastrophe is at hand, says Michael G. Schmidt, Ph.D., professor of microbiology and immunology at the Medical University of South Carolina. "Listeria is a potentially serious pathogen to individuals with weakened immune systems, including pregnant women, people with diabetes, cancer, liver or kidney disease."

Listeria monocytogenes occurs naturally in soils and water and can grow on foods within our refrigerator, says Schmidt. The bacteria can be found in a variety of raw foods as well as unpastureurized milk and processed foods. Unlike other germs, listeria can grow in  refrigerator temperatures. It has no smell or taste and only heat can kill it, but if heated food cools, the listeria may grow again, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). 

How Do You Avoid Listeriosis?

The CDC has issued a nationwide warning with a number of recommendations to help you avoid listeriosis, the infection caused by the listeria bacteria. Because listeria has a long incubation period that can last up to 70 days, new cases in relation to the recent outbreak could still emerge. Contaminated cantaloupes may still be in grocery stores, restaurants, and homes, so consumers are requested to:

  • Avoid eating cantaloupes from the Rocky Ford region of Colorado if you are in one of the high-risk groups listed above 
  • Consult with your doctor immediately if you think you might have symptoms of listeriosis from cantaloupe
  • Check the cantaloupe label or ask at the store where the fruit was purchased to determine if it originated in the Rocky Ford region of Colorado
  • Dispose of cantaloupes marketed as coming from the Rocky Ford region properly by placing them in a sealed plastic bag within a tightly sealed garbage can, to help prevent people or animals from eating them 

Where to Get Help

If you have ingested some of this fruit from the suspect region, monitor your health closely, especially if you are pregnant or immune compromised, says Schmidt. "If you have an uncut melon in your possession—and know it is from the suspected region—return it the store or vendor from which it was purchased."

Even if you have eaten any of the suspect cantaloupe, the risk of developing a Listeria infection is small, says Schmidt. If you have eaten and do not have any symptoms, the CDC presently does not recommend any tests or treatment, even if you are in a high-risk group.

However, if you are in a high-risk group and develop symptoms within two months of eating the suspect cantaloupe you should contact your health care provider immediately and tell them that you have been exposed to a product contaminated with listeria. Symptoms are typically similar to the flu, and include fever, chills, ache and pains, and often a stiff neck. 

Listeria can be treated with antibiotics if recognized promptly, says Schmidt. 

Learn more about listeriosis symptoms and treatments or go to the CDC’s Listeriosis webpage. For more information on food outbreaks, visit CDC’s Multistate Foodborne Outbreaks page

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Tags: Epidemics , Public Health & Policy

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