Contaminated cantaloupes pose serious health risk

In what the CDC is calling the deadliest foodbourne outbreak in a decade, Listeria-infected cantaloupes in 18 states have sickened 72 people, killing 13 so far.

Officials say the epidemic will most likely worsen as the government struggles to trace how far the bacteria have spread into other states. In addition, the symptoms of Listeria often take up to two months to develop in those who have been affected; the first case appeared Sept. 12.

The initial contamination has been linked to Jensen Farms in Colorado. Jensen Farms said it distributes its cantaloupes to 25 states throughout the country.

“If it’s not Jensen farms, it’s OK to eat,” Dr. Thomas Frieden, CDC director, said in a media conference call Wednesday. “But if you can’t confirm that it’s not Jensen farms, then it’s best to throw it out.”

Grocery sticker labels for cantaloupes grown at Jensen Farms might include those that read “Colorado Grown,” “Frontera Produce,” “” or “Sweet Rocky Fords.”

Like E. Coli and Salmonella, Listeria is passed through contaminated food and can cause fever, muscle aches and gastrointestinal symptoms. The illness usually affects those who have compromised immune systems, such as the elderly or pregnant.

“We do anticipate there will be a rising number of cases in the days and weeks to come,” Frieden said.