When we last covered the recent U.S. outbreak of listeriosis, 27 people were sick, four dead, and the FDA wasn’t yet certain what was causing the illnesses. Since then, they’ve pinpointed the culprit—listeria-tainted cantaloupes from Jensen Farms near Holly, Colorado—and recalled 300,000 cases of the fruit. But officials said yesterday that because listeria has an incubation period of a month or more, people who ate contaminated fruit last week may not become ill until next month—so more cases of listeriosis, and possibly more deaths, are expected. So far, the outbreak has sickened 72 people and resulted in 13 deaths, making this the deadliest listeria outbreak in the past decade. Here’s what you need to know to protect yourself:
Should you avoid all cantaloupe?
The FDA says no, just cantaloupes from Colorado’s Jensen Farms. But determining a cantaloupe’s origin may not be so easy. According to The Associated Press, the recalled cantaloupe may be labeled “Colorado Grown,” ”Distributed by Frontera Produce,” ”Jensenfarms.com” or “Sweet Rocky Fords.” It could also be just be labeled “USA.” Neither the government nor Jensen Farms has released a list of retailers who sold the fruit, so if you’re going to purchase cantaloupe from the grocery store, be sure to ask about its origin. Better yet, avoid supermarket cantaloupe all together for a little bit; purchase melons from local farmers and farmer’s markets instead.
Is there any way to tell if a cantaloupe is contaminated with Listeria?
Not without testing it, no.
What should you do if you suspect you have tainted cantaloupe in your home?
Throw it out! Place cantaloupe in a sealed plastic bag or container before throwing out, so it doesn’t touch and contaminate anything else. And be sure to thoroughly clean your hands and any surface, container or anything else the cantaloupe has touched.
What exactly are Listeria and listeriosis, anyway?
Listeria is a bacteria that can creep into food and cause a rare but serious illness called listeriosis.Previous outbreaks of listeriosis have been spread by uncooked meats, vegetables, hot dogs, deli meats and unpasteurized milk and cheeses. Listeria is killed by pasteurization and cooking, but unlike most bacteria, it can grow and multiply in some foods even after they’ve been refrigerated.
Are you at risk?
Pregnant women, babies, older adults and those with compromised immune systems are particularly at risk for contracting listeriosis, which first shows up as muscle aches, neck stiffness, diarrhea, vomiting, weakness and fever. According to AP, listeriosis can cause death in one in five people who catch it.