The number of deaths and illnesses associated with Listeria-tainted cantaloupes continues to rise, amounting to the deadliest outbreak of a foodborne illness in the United States for more than a decade, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The bacteria-laden cantaloupes, from Jensen Farms in Colorado, so far have been associated with 13 deaths and 72 illnesses across 18 states. The outbreak began on or around July 31.
Consumers should know that even if part of a cantaloupe has been eaten without becoming ill, Listeria can take several days to present itself, the CDC reports, and it is therefore best to dispose of the rest of the cantaloupe immediately. Also, Listeria bacteria can grow on a cantaloupe at refrigerator temperatures, not just room temperatures. Listeria monocytogenes is an organism that can cause food poisoning, and the elderly, pregnant women and people with compromised immune systems are the most likely to be sickened by the bacteria.
Jensen Farms recalled its Rocky Ford-brand cantaloupes on Sept. 14, but had previously shipped the cantaloupes from July 29 through Sept. 10 to at least 17 states, with possible further distribution.
The CDC recommends that people at high risk for Listeriosis do not eat Rocky Ford cantaloupes from Jensen Farms. Other consumers who want to reduce their risk of Listeria infection should also not eat Rocky Ford cantaloupes from Jensen Farms either.
Useful information about safe cantaloupe preparation:
Seven tips for safer cantaloupes
9 foods to handle with extreme care
Investigation Update: Multistate Outbreak of Listeriosis Linked to Whole Cantaloupes from Jensen Farms, Colorado [CDC]